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Automakers tuning up EVs, hybrids with game, movie sounds

Nissan Motor Co. Engineers stand around a Rogue SUV, equipped with new warning sound effects, including for unfastened seatbelts and improperly shut doors. (Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor Co./Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- As automakers make their shift to electrification of vehicles to meet stricter emission regulations, many have started collaborating with composers of game and film music in search of a signature tune that can replace engine sounds.

    Since electrified cars using motors are quieter than internal combustion engine vehicles, drivers tend to pay more attention to interior sounds of electric vehicles and gasoline-electric hybrids, automakers say.

    Nissan Motor Co. and a research unit of major entertainment company Bandai Namco Holdings Inc., which produces various games from the "Pac-Man" to "Mobile Suit Gundam" series, developed sound effects such as to inform drivers to wear seat belts and a door is not shut.

    The sounds are introduced in new models of its Note compact car in Japan as well as the sport utility vehicles Rogue and Pathfinder in the United States and Qashqai in Europe that went on sale since fall last year.

    The collaboration reflected a knowledge accumulated in the video game industry on how to accurately convey necessary information and alert a change in situation, the companies said.

    In five years of trial and error, the companies tried various patterns of scales and tempos and sought their ideal sound that is sophisticated, comfortable to hear and not alarming like a buzzer.

    "We cut away any excessive expression and created a sound easy to hear," said Minamo Takahashi, the sound director at Bandai Namco Research Inc.

    Hiroyuki Suzuki, Nissan's lead engineer for in-car information sound design, said, "The latest Note now gives a modern impression with the contemporary sound."

    Some other carmakers are trying to distinguish their vehicles by crafting driving sounds comparable to ignition and speeding up of gasoline engines.

    Germany's BMW AG tapped Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer, who composed soundtracks for the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, to develop suitable sounds for its EVs. In Japan, the new acoustic features will be available on its iX SUV models from this fall.

    Toyota Motor Corp. created artificial sounds for acceleration, when it redesigned its Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in December. The sound change responsive to braking and accelerating helps the driver intuitively understand the condition of the car, the company said.

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