The Quest For An Electric-Car “Sound”

Should it mimic the roaring of a gasoline engine? Or the whoosh of a transporter from Blade Runner?

Clive Thompson


The proposed all-electric Dodge Charger

Last month, I wrote about the psychological effects of “the end of burning”.

Basically, I was thinking about the resistance to renewable energy, and wondering if some part of it is because solar and wind generate power without burning anything. That’s a big change! For thousands of years, humanity got its power from burning wood, then coal and gas. We learned to associate fire with power.

So maybe there’s something that’s faintly suspicious, or existentially “off”, about power that comes without burning something?

As I wrote …

Americans … have a lot of romance about combustion. Car-owners coo over the roar of a powerful engine; I find the thrum of a motorcyle kind of badass. Fire, burning, and combustion are tied up inextricably with many western ideas about power itself — and I mean “power” not in newtons and joules and kilowatt hours, but power as in “the agency to do things, and to go places”.

Indeed, I’ve long suspected that there are probably people who find electric cars unsetting and aesthetically unsatisfying because they don’t have an engine that roars. We’ve been culturally lovebombed for so many years — men, in particular — with the idea that an engine needs to growl. Electric cars, even if they actually have better and more powerful acceleration, can seem deflating merely because they don’t broadcast power to everyone within earshot.

I saw some more evidence of this today when I stumbled upon a news release for the new Dodge Charger.

The Charger is, of course, a famous muscle car first introduced in 1966. It’s the model the Dukes of Hazzard tooled around in, a famously brawny and loud beast.

The folks at Dodge are now making an all-electric Charger, which is pretty cool! But it turns out they can’t bring themselves to…



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.