Make Some Noise: Chevrolet's New Low-speed EV Warning Sound Is Either Soothing or Ominous

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
make some noise chevrolets new low speed ev warning sound is either soothing or

To this author’s ears, it’s a noise that seems to herald the arrival of the spaceships coming to take all of the world’s children to a new home in the sun. Chevrolet claims it’s supposed to feel more natural and less intrusive. Whatever your take, the new low-speed warning noise is a necessary addition to the 2019 Volt — looming federal guidelines demand it.

Expect to hear a different kind of tonal landscape once electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids make up a larger portion of the teeming vehicle masses. Hear for yourself:

In response to requests from Twitter users, Michael Wayland of Automotive News posted this video on Twitter Monday morning.

Here you go (video also being uploaded to article).

— Michael Wayland (@MikeWayland) September 24, 2018

Years in the making, the new dictate from the U.S. Department of Transportation requires at least half of all EVs or PHEVs (“quiet vehicles”) to emanate a government-approved noise at speeds below 18.6 miles per hour by September 1st, 2019. All vehicles must conform within a year from that date.

Much like car horns, the exact tone isn’t standardized, and individual automakers will come up with their own solution. Some OEMs, if allowed, might continue with the low-frequency hum or buzzing sound already in place in existing quiet vehicles. The Volt swapped its buzz for this new sound for the 2019 model year, with the all-electric Bolt to follow.

“We put a lot of work into making sure it was quiet on the inside of the car,” Rob Mantinan, Volt program engineering manager, told Automotive News. One can imagine the disincentive for new car buyers if an intrusive hum made its way into the cabin of the car, even at low speeds.

“The new [tone] is more tonal. It’s more deliberate. It’s more noticeable, for sure, on the outside of the car,” Mantinan added.

An external speaker emits the noise in either drive or reverse, with volume increasing to match the vehicle’s speed. Mantinan said the company wants to offer fair warning to pedestrians that the vehicle is speeding up.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, EVs and PHEVs are 19 percent more likely to hit pedestrians and cyclists. Blame the stealthy nature of their electric powerplants for the heightened risk. (Diesels must sit at the top of the safety pyramid in this regard.)

Of course, Chevrolet isn’t rolling out a first drive event for the mildly refreshed 2019 Volt just because of a sound. There’s changes afoot to the brand’s “extended-range electric vehicle,” a major one being the vehicle’s reduced charging time. GM wants more Volt buyers to treat their vehicle as an EV, charging it up whenever possible, rather than relying on the 1.5-liter four-cylinder generator to complete the owner’s daily driving duties.

[Image: General Motors]

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2 of 27 comments
  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Sep 24, 2018

    It is like Tarkus Eruption that stuck in introduction.

  • WallMeerkat WallMeerkat on Sep 25, 2018

    That sounds like a fire siren / burglar alarm going off nearby. I could imagine it being very annoying if someone is waiting outside foot on brake in Drive and this is continually going off while you're trying to sleep. As others said, it needs some directional indication. For example, when European emergency vehicles are nearing a busy junction they switch to a "blip blip blip blip blip blip" siren that supposedly makes it easier for cars to hear where the sound is coming from. (I imagine US sirens do the same?)

  • SCE to AUX Base Price: $99,795 US / $115,133 CANAs Tested: $100,370 US / $115,133 CANBoth versions can't cost the same in CAN $.
  • SCE to AUX @Matt Posky: This may surprise you, but I agree with your criticisms is this story.This vehicle has the look and weight of the Telluride, but without the right chops. A vehicle like this is intended to be a great highway cruiser loaded up with all the stuff one takes on a trip - not a 0-60 racer.My former Sedona (RIP, sniff) had a great blend of space, power, and towing capacity. It was lovely for countless road trips, but it was a ponderous commuter.The EV9 won't make a great road trip car due to its short range, and it is too hulking to make sense as a commuter. They should have fitted a 150 - 200 kWh battery so it could at least go some distance, and that might justify the bulk.No way I'd go in for ~$60k for this vehicle.
  • Jeff S I like the looks of this car and in today's dollars it might not be that bad a buy but my issues with this Genesis would be Hyundai's reliability in recent years has been below average and getting a car like this serviced at a Hyundai dealership. I do like the rear reclining rear seats and the massage settings. Beautiful car but I would take the safer option of a preowned Lexus which gives you better reliability and lower maintenance costs than the South Koreans and the Germans. Genesis is definitely a luxury car with the extras that are standard but it is still a Hyundai. These will depreciate a lot as do the German cars which once they get old a Pandora's box of issues crop up and they become expensive to maintain. Good write up.
  • Tylanner Cinnabon is the holy grail but Starbucks or Dunkin will do. I will only resort gas-station coffee in extraordinary circumstances.
  • Akear My Fusion is nearing the 200,000 miles mark. However, I do not want to replace it with an unreliable Escape, which could blow its engine by 60,000 miles. Ford has gone down hill since Fields was forced out. Both Hackett and Farley have made Ford the nation's recall king. What happened..................