BMW M Boss Tells Us Future EVs Will Not Be Totally Silent

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A solution can always be found.

There's no question the future of vehicles will be with batteries. Internal combustion will be a thing of the past for all automakers, including high performance. Welcome to the new reality. But what about some internal combustion engine traits, specifically sound? After all, electric vehicles are, for the most part, silent. We sat down with BMW M boss Frank van Meel at Geneva last week and this subject came up during our discussion. "Although I can't give you an exact an answer (to solve the sound issue), there will be an answer to that question, van Meel said.

"There have been so many changes regarding engine sound, with the change from naturally aspirated to turbocharged where you lose the air intake. Suddenly you had backfire and things like that. It just changed. And now these cars (EVs) have a completely different sound than current cars." But like all new technologies, there are refinement levels involved that simply take some time. Take oil burners, for example. "Diesel cars first sounded like tractors and then they were improved and later you have Le Mans racing cars running on diesel that sounded pretty nice. Le Mans diesel later came into series production cars. So you can see there are always solutions."

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Because of M's performance car status within the industry, it will need to be a leader in figuring out how to make battery-powered performance be pleasing to our ears. "Sometimes it takes time to find an authentic, natural sound and decide this is exactly what I've been waiting for," van Meel added. "If you look at 'Stars Wars' pod races, that was completely artificial, and yet all the kids who watch the movie say that's exactly how a pod should sound. That's accepted. So with electric cars there will be sound also. I don't know exactly what it will sound like, but we will find a solution as always. There will be artificial, or enhanced sounds. They will come to the mind as completely natural one day."

Van Meel also told us at Frankfurt last September there was no question batteries will replace combustion engines one day, so it sounds like (no pun intended) the necessary groundwork is already underway both in practice and, just as important, the mindset. Shifting to EVs also requires new and creative ways of doing things we're very familiar with, like engine noise.


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