Apparently, it will help pedestrians hear it coming.
Unlike a traditional gasoline or diesel car, electric cars make little to no noise when they accelerate. There may be a bit of whine from the electric motors, but EVs are practically silent. Depending on who you ask, this can be seen as a good thing or a bad thing. A silent car may be pleasant for a family commuter, but many car enthusiasts like to hear the sound of an engine when they accelerate.
As it turns out, enthusiasts aren't the only ones who have a problem with silent EVs. The United States Department of Transportation now requires EVs to make some form of noise to prevent injuries to pedestrians. Though the rules stipulate that the car needs to make some sort of noise, they are quite vague as to what that noise should sound like.
Up until now, the Chevrolet Volt has used a one-speaker system to emit a high-pitched buzzing sound. Automotive News reports that the 2019 Volt will switch to a new system, which will emit a whooshing white noise that gets louder as the car accelerates. Chevy hasn't released any videos of how the new system sounds, but Twitter user @MikeWayland has posted a video showing the new noise. To us, it sounds a bit like the noise a PlayStation 2 made when booting up, which is a good reference for any readers who are children of the 2000's.
GM says the sound has been specifically designed so the driver and passengers shouldn't notice anything unless they are specifically looking for it. "We put a lot of work into making sure it was quiet on the inside of the car," Rob Mantinan, Volt program engineering manager, said during a media drive. "The new [sound] is more tonal. It's more deliberate. It's more noticeable, for sure, on the outside of the car," Mantinan added.
Chevy will likely add the same sound on the all-electric Bolt, though the industry standards don't kick in fully until 2020. For now, expect at least 50% of silent EVs to add some sort of sound, with more to come next year.