Automakers are running into a problem with electric vehicles. How does a car transmit what it is doing to a driver without the sound and feel of a gasoline engine and traditional gearbox? This is a more significant issue for high-performance EVs that might hit the race track and is something BMW M is aware of as it develops its first electric model. It's also exploring solutions that software might solve.
BMW boss Frank van Meel recently told WhichCar.com that it is looking into simulated gears, acoustic cues, and vibration feedback as ways the M's EV could communicate with the driver. According to Meel, drivers don't have time to look at an EV's speedometer when on the track. In a gas car, the sound and feel of the engine, the placement of the gear shifter, and the rev indicator can tell the driver a lot about what the car is doing at the limit without the need to focus on the car's instruments.
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EVs often have only one gear, eliminating the tell-tale jolts of a transmission. The Porsche Taycan stands out as an EV with a two-speed one. Hyundai's recently revealed Ioniq 5 N has a one-speed gearbox, but the automaker uses software to enhance it. The Hyundai EV features two technologies designed to inform the driver about the car's energy usage.
N e-shift simulates the brand's eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission by controlling the motors' torque output. This provides the feeling of a traditional gearbox and works alongside N Active Sound +.
This system is the auditory portion of the formula that offers three distinct sound themes for the vehicle. One recreates the sound of Hyundai N's 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, while another takes inspiration from the sound of a twin-engine fighter jet. Still, Hyundai designed all three to communicate what the car is doing at any given moment, and BMW could follow a similar path.
This isn't the first time automakers have resorted to technology to enhance the driving experience. Even some gas-powered cars pipe in fake exhaust sounds to combat increased soundproofing and more robustly built cars, and companies might go further than just software with EVs. In 2022, Toyota filed a patent for a clutch-operated manual transmission for electric vehicles, which would improve the relationship between the car and driver.
We won't know what BMW decides to do until the car debuts, which sounds like it won't happen soon. The car is currently in development, with Van Meel saying that its reveal would happen sometime this decade, so don’t clear your calendars yet.