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The sound of the future

Adriene Hill Feb 10, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: The European Commission has some new guidelines out for — and this is a quote — “the approved sound levels of motor vechicles.”

It sounds, and is, deadly dull. Until you get to Page 78, where it just gets weird.

The guidelines spell out the sounds that electric vehicles shouldn’t make. Marketplace’s Adriene Hill explains.

Adriene Hill: Electric vehicles and hybrids need to sound like something because:

Carroll Lachnit: They actually pose a danger to pedestrians.

Carroll Lachnit is features editor at She says hybrids hurt pedestrians more often than gas cars because they are so quiet. So U.S. carmakers are working on sounds that’ll be required in the next few years.

Lachnit: They all to me sound like we’re leaving the starport Galactica and heading out for outer space. They’re all sort of like PSSHUWUUU.

But when your car sound can be anything, why not think big? I call up Consumer Reports automotive editor Rick Paul for his take on a couple sounds. Imagine, you’re walking in a crosswalk and up rolls a car that sounds like–


Rick Paul: This wouldn’t seem unusual in my neighborhood…because there’s dogs everywhere you walk.

OK, fair enough. How about a classic?

“Little Red Corvette”

Paul: I guess it would depend if you are a Prince fan or not. It would certainly get your attention.

Maybe something more subtle?


Paul: Crickets. I guess I’d either think the 2012 prophecy was coming true and these were the locusts coming or else it’d put me into a meditative state.

Picky, picky. Paul says the ideal sound is one that’s high-tech, but not scary, low volume, steady.

I know exactly the one.

Marketplace gong

Hill: What do you think?

Paul: I think that’s perfect.

Carmakers and European commissioners take note.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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