Automakers are having trouble with electric vehicles. How can a car transmit what it does to the driver without the sound and feel of a traditional petrol engine and gearbox? This is a more significant issue for high-performance EVs that may hit the race track and is something BMW M was aware of when developing its first electric model. It also explores possible solutions that the software solves.
BMW boss Frank van Meel recently made the point YangCar.com that it’s looking at simulated gears, acoustic cues, and vibration feedback as ways the EV M can communicate with the driver. According to Meel, drivers don’t have time to look at the EV speedometer while on the track. In a petrol car, the sound and feel of the engine, shifter placement and rev indicators can tell the driver a lot about what the car is doing at that limit without the need to focus on the car’s instruments.
EVs often only have one gear, eliminating transmission jiggle. The Porsche Taycan stands out as a two-speed EV. The Hyundai Ioniq 5 N recently revealed it has a single-speed gearbox, but the automaker is using software to upgrade it. The Hyundai EV features two technologies designed to inform drivers about the car’s energy use.
N e-shift simulates the brand’s eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission by controlling the motor’s torque output. It gives off the feel of a traditional gearbox and works alongside N Active Sound+.
This system is the auditory part of the formula offering three different sound themes for the vehicle. One recreates the sound of the Hyundai N’s 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, while the other takes inspiration from the sound of a twin-engine fighter jet. Still, Hyundai designed all three to communicate what the car was doing at any given moment, and BMW could follow the same path.
This isn’t the first time an automaker has used technology to enhance the driving experience. Even some gas-powered cars are channeling fake exhaust noise to combat improved soundproofing and made cars more powerful, and companies may go further than just software with EVs. In 2022, Toyota files a patent for a clutch-operated manual transmission for electric vehicles, which will improve the relationship between car and driver.
We won’t know what BMW decides to do until the car debuts, which is unlikely to happen soon. The car is currently in development, with Van Meel saying the reveal should happen sometime this decade, so don’t clear your calendars.