Journalist Tim Stevens wrote an interesting article arguing why the Charger Daytona's fake engine noise is a bad idea for Dodge.
Some of his arguments include: 126 db is way too loud for the engine noise, Dodge and other companies should embrace the noise EVs make, especially when it comes to racing.
The legalities, practicalities, and other reasons why Dodge's fake engine sounds are a bad idea -- but maybe not a terrible one.
Last week, people with opinions on EVs were given a whole new aspect of the electric car landscape upon which to whinge: Dodge's new Charger Daytona SRT and it's faux burble.
Well, dear reader, now that I'm back home from a whirlwind visit to Monterey, it's my turn to opine. But, you know me — that’s never enough. I also want to dig into the legalities and some other implications of the situation, because with this kind of system we're diving into uncharted waters.
Love it or hate it, Dodge's Charger Daytona SRT is inspiring so much response not thanks to how it looks (I think we can all agree it's a stellar design) but, rather, how it sounds. You see, the car makes noise, and not just a whir or woosh or buzz like most other EVs.
The car features what Dodge calls a "Fratzonic Chambered Exhaust" capable of generating a whopping 126 decibels wall of testosterone-infused sound. Just how loud is that? Well, this list published by Yale University has a line at the 125 db threshold. That line is labeled "Pain Begins." That should give you an idea of the volume we're talking about. For some more concrete examples, a chain saw is 110 db, a power mower 107, and a wood chipper 120.
That, my friends, is loud, stupid loud in the most literal definition of the term and, as someone who has some feelings about noise pollution, my immediate reaction is disgust. But hang on, because there may be method to Dodge's madness.
How it Works
I can probably keep this section short because nobody really knows. Dodge isn't saying much beyond vague descriptions of air moving through chambers to generate sound. That's pretty funny to me because loudspeakers are literally chambers that move air to make sound, so there's no reason to believe this is anything beyond a good ol' sound system stuck up the rear of the Charger Daytona SRT.
I thought there might be something fancier going on, some sort of aural technique implied by the name, but that appears to be a dead-end. I can't find any reference to the word "Fratzonic" older than last week, so Dodge seems to have invented the word for marketing effect, and good on 'em for that."Fratz," is actually a German word that translates to "brat" or "rascal." That, I believe, is pretty apt for a sound system designed to annoy the neighbors.
If there's anything to be gleaned, it's from the name itself. Its root, "fratz," is actually a German word that translates to "brat" or "rascal." That, I believe, is pretty apt for a sound system designed to annoy the neighbors.
Update: As John Rosevear on Twitter kindly informs me, the name refers to Dodge’s earlier made-up word, “fratzog,” now revived for their electrification efforts.
The Legalities and Practicalities
Did you know EVs are required by law to make a noise? It's a sad truth. You can read all the sordid details over at this Cornell Law School overview on the regulations, but if your tolerance for legal faffery is lower than mine, here's what you need to know.
Long story short: EVs and PHEVs must emit sounds within a given frequency range at speeds up to 30 kilometers-per-hour, which is just under 20 mph. Over that, no artificial noise is required.
Why not? Stand next to a busy road and listen to the obnoxious cacophony. You'll surely hear some engine notes mixed in there, but for most modern cars with functional exhaust systems what you're actually hearing is a mixture of wind and tire noise. That noise has nothing to do with the means of propulsion.
However, that sound only comes with speed, and so that's why EVs must actively generate some noise at lower speeds. How much noise? Well, the regulation specifies that volume levels must be in the 30 db range at low speeds, rising to about 60 at the maximum testing speed.
You know what the regulation doesn't specify, though? A maximum volume. To figure that out, we'll have to look at exhaust laws. These laws vary from state to state, but according to SEMA's rundown, 95 db is a common threshold for a ticketable offense in many states.
But, but but... is Dodge's brat system really an exhaust? It sure sounds like an outdoor speaker to me, which means legally it might fall under laws regarding car sound systems. Legalities there, for better or worse, are all over the place.
About a decade ago, Florida's Supreme Court struck down a law regulating loud car stereo systems. As it turns out, blasting classic rock at uncomfortable volumes is part of your Freedom of Expression. 'Merica!
This year, though, a new law was passed stating that any car stereo audible from 25 feet is illegal. Will that stand up to the same legal scrutiny? Only time will tell.
My (Split) Opinion
I'm of two minds about Dodge's system. On one hand, 126 db is clearly too loud. Even half that volume is excessive, but I'm not just saying this because of personal preference. It's more because it annoys my inner engineer.
Any sound coming out of the exhaust of any car is wasted energy. That's why turbocharged race cars are generally quieter: The turbo spinning in the exhaust captures some of that otherwise wasted force and uses it to spin the impeller, thus generating more power. Efficiency! Speed! Performance!
Now, I love a great-sounding car as much as anyone. I did my fair share of giggling at the sound of vintage machines at Laguna Seca this past weekend. However, to go out of your way to make a performance-minded car louder simply for the sake of volume is, to me, inherently wrong.
Not only wrong but obnoxious. I'm 100% fully in support of in-car fake engine noises as loud as you want. Hey, if you want to destroy your ears in pursuit of tickling some dried up husk of a neural receptor that only the simulated sound of a V8 can stimulate, you go wild. More power to ya. But, if you can only achieve driving satisfaction by annoying everyone within a country mile, it's time for you to admit the reality of the situation: you're a jerk.
It's important to separate all that volume-related opinion from a general desire to make your car sound better. It’s here, on this separate but intimately related aspect of the situation, that I am absolutely picking up what Dodge is throwing down. If your EV is required by law to output 60 db of sound at 30 km/h, why the hell not make sure those 60 db are awesome? Let the other brands endlessly fight over repurposing Brian Eno samples for their cars. This is Dodge.If you can only achieve driving satisfaction by annoying everyone within a country mile, it's time for you to admit the reality of the situation: you're a jerk.
But Race Cars!
I hear so often people lamenting that motorsports of the future are going to be lame and boring because the cars won't sound cool. That is so completely false. Porsche's prototype electric racer, the GT4 ePerformance I was lucky enough to drive earlier this year, sounds wildly good -- and it doesn't require any speakers. Let's start finding ways to appreciate the new sound of motorsports to come rather than simply hanging on to the dying echoes of a dated technology powered by a drying-up resource.