Luxury car buyers are getting accustomed to vehicles with smaller, turbocharged engines, but many still want their powertrains to sound like big, rumbly V-8s.
Sure, some automakers pipe deep, throaty engine sounds through their cars' audio systems. But only the driver hears that. How do motorists get their friends, neighbors and other drivers to fear and respect their engines?
Faurecia SA thinks it has the answer. The French supplier has developed an audio system for the exhaust that broadcasts V-8 sounds befitting a vehicle with a luxury price tag.
The system, dubbed exhaust dynamic sound generation, works for diesel or gasoline-powered vehicles.
"If you're spending $40,000 or $50,000 for a vehicle, you care about your image and how you're perceived," said Andrew Pontius, chief engineering technical officer of Faurecia's North American emissions control unit.
A luxury car "might have a four-cylinder engine that performs very well, but a V-6-powered vehicle might outsell it because it sounds better."
Here's how the system works: A software program for the engine control unit activates a small amplifier and speaker next to the exhaust system. When the vehicle accelerates, the speaker emits the appropriate vroom-vroom sounds through the tailpipe.
Engineers can tailor the software to mimic a six- or eight-cylinder engine and make it sound as rumbly or as refined as they like.
Pontius says it's an especially good technology for clean diesels fitted with exhaust treatment systems -- vehicles so quiet that there's almost no need for a muffler.
"You don't have the clattery diesel sound from 10 or 20 years ago, but it still doesn't sound very attractive," Pontius said.
For gasoline-powered vehicles, the system is more complicated. First, Faurecia offers noise cancellation software to block the whirring sound of the vehicle's turbocharger. Then the sound system emits the pleasing tones of a six- or eight-cylinder engine.
"We took away the undesirable sounds and added what the motorist wants to hear," Pontius said. "That's more necessary for gasoline cars."
Pontius says Faurecia is working on several proof-of-concept programs with customers. If all goes well, he expects the company to launch production in the 2017 model year.
A bonus for automakers that adopt the technology, Pontius says, is the software can be revised without redesigning the exhaust system, allowing engineers to choose their engine sounds in the final stages of a vehicle's design.
Faurecia's technology doesn't improve a vehicle's performance, but appearances matter, Pontius notes. "If a car doesn't sound cool, it might not be as attractive to the buyer."