Car enthusiasts have long complained that electric cars, which are quiet, relatively similar to each other and, ultimately, soulless, spoil all the fun of driving. They’re not wrong: Electric vehicles generally only have one gear, so there’s no fun shifting up and down the gears. The floor, even in a blazingly fast electric vehicle, doesn’t produce the kind of visceral vibrations and rumbles you get from, say, a powerful V8.
In response, some automakers are copying the most fun elements of conventional cars and pasting them into their latest electric models. However, BMW claims that they are not at all interested in using artificial transmissions or fake engine noises in their future electric vehicles.
BMW does not want to be like its competitors
During a recent roundtable with journalists, we asked Frank Weber, BMW’s chief technical officer, if his engineers were working on simulated gearboxes for electric cars. Hyundai, Toyota and other manufacturers are experimenting with this type of imitation, which is not strictly necessary in an electric vehicle but could help improve the driving experience.
Frank Weber scoffed at the idea: “Yes, maybe we can emulate a lever, a digital lever“. BMW’s technical boss added that the company has bigger fish to fry when it comes to the driving experience of the next generation of electric vehicles. BMW wants to exploit the advantages of electric technology by developing systems which control the wheels, engines and chassis of a vehicle. This is the priority.
“To emulate having fixed gears and changing them, we can probably do it in the afternoon, once we finish the other work. You’ll be surprised how well the vehicles drive is different when you see the next generation.” – Frank Weber, BMW technical director
Other manufacturers have already moved to simulation
BMW’s technical chief is joking, but other automakers are deadly serious when it comes to consoling diehard auto fans about the demise of their beloved gasoline engines. Toyota has developed a gear lever for electric vehicles that you can stall. The drivers of the Ionic 5 N of Hyundai can feel the jolts of gear changes and even choose from a menu of engine rumbles to wake the neighbours. Dodge, the brand synonymous with the thundering V8 muscle car, incorporated an absurdly loud transmission and “exhaust” into a recent electric concept car.
Never say never
Just because something isn’t a priority doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. The head of BMW’s high-performance M division told Which Car earlier this year that his team was studying artificial gear changes, vibrations and acoustic signals to help drivers of future M-brand electric vehicles better gauge their speed on race circuits.
As for the external speakers that some competitors use to broadcast fake engine roars to the outside world? “There is no question” declared Frank Weber, after recounting his experience behind the wheel of a Fiat noisy electric: “Yes it’s possible. I think this would not match BMW’s reputation”.