NASHVILLE -- One of the good things about Nissan's upcoming electric car, the Leaf, is that it is virtually silent as it drives.
But that's also one of its problems.
Nissan engineers are now searching for more than one sound for the Leaf. One will alert pedestrians that an otherwise silent vehicle may be speeding toward them. Another will be created to give owners an emotional attachment to the car.
"The electric vehicle must have a sound, too," Carlos Tavares, Nissan chairman for the Americas, said recently in comments to the press here.
Traditional car owners are accustomed to the sound of a combustion engine turning over on ignition, Tavares says. They are accustomed to the sound of the engine revving.
"For decades, engineers have been working on the sound of exhaust systems as a signature of an owner's experience," Tavares says. "I've asked engineers: 'What sound will you work on now?'
"They need to find something else as a signature sound which is a feature."
Sources on the Leaf project say they have created a number of possible start-up sounds that are akin to the short melody that plays when a personal computer boots up.
Without the artificially added start-up sounds, Leaf drivers would simply hear the whirring of vehicle systems coming to life. That, the project participants say, is unsatisfying.
Nissan is still considering alternatives. Other onboard sounds could be added later. The sounds might also differ among vehicle models.
The Leaf goes on sale late next year in several U.S. markets.
Tavares also says the electric vehicle will add an undetermined external sound as a safety feature to alert pedestrians of the oncoming car. Bills have been introduced in Congress calling for a Transportation Department study of how to protect the blind from being injured by electric vehicles.
"Our sound engineers are working on it," Tavares says. "It's important for the overall pleasure of driving the car."