Peugeot used the 2010 SR1 concept to introduce its i-Cockpit touchscreen-based system, designed to control heating and ventilation, navigation, audio, connectivity, and the trip computer. The first-gen system entered production in the 2012 Peugeot 208. The company took the i-Cockpit concept one stage further in the Fractal electric urban coupe concept at the 2015 IAA Frankfurt Show, to include sound.
The concept plays a “sound signature”, created by DJ and sound designer Amon Tobin, which is triggered when the driver opens the car using the smart watch remote locking system. “Behind this concept of an electric car—that is not really new, there was this question that electric cars emit no sound”, explains Matthias Hossann, Head of Concept Cars and Advanced Design at Peugeot.
“In France, sometimes if you say you are driving an electric car, people say they are very sorry for you because they think it is not as exciting to drive an electric car. We thought about that and agree that you lack some pleasure with an electric car because it emits no sound. I have had this experience because even when you start an electric car, you don’t know that it has started.”
The Peugeot design team’s thinking was that sound is part of the conventional driving experience, giving the driver an indication of speed, for instance. “We think that by developing some specific sounds, we can generate some specific emotions, some specific driving pleasure and also a more precise driving experience”, explains Hossann.
As a result, Peugeot has developed some more specialized sounds for the Fractal. “The best example is the GPS," continued Hossann. Most of us have had the experience on a busy road of missing a turn even though the navigation system has given the instruction. The Fractal designers have used directional sound to help. “We think that by developing some sounds that come from one side, for example the right, with a command to turn right in 300 m, followed by some other sound from the right, will give a better driving experience.”
The Peugeot design team has worked with Tobin since the beginning of the project to design specific sounds. “We have shared the design process with him, we have discussed process, material, shape, and sound,” said Hossann. All the functional sounds such as the turning indicators and warning sounds.
As well as presenting the possibility of designing an EV with specific functional sounds, there could be a practical application. All electric cars sold in the European Union from 2019 will be required to make a sound at speeds up to 30 km/h (19 mph) to warn pedestrians of their presence.
The Peugeot team thinks this could be an opportunity to develop a specific sound signature for Peugeot electric cars. In addition, the Fractal design team has tapped into other value judgments that car buyers make about cars, such as the quality of the sound of the door when it closes. “That is why, for example on this car we have developed a sound for opening and closing the doors,” said Hossann.
The designers also considered current personalization of cars, “Personalization today is a lot of adding things like stickers and paint. Tomorrow, you could have the same body, but just personalize the sound like a smartphone such as the door opening.”
Sound has also been used to determine interior design features. “The best shape is an anechoic chamber. In fact we work with parametric design. We don’t design just by drawing every line and making it look right,” said Hossann. "We just work with an algorithm. We define a shape—it’s a new way of conceiving things. This shape is impossible to produce by stamping, or with carbon fiber, or injection molding,”
Hossann pointed to the inner door panel: “That’s why we use a lot of 3D printing. More than 80% of the interior of the car is produced by 3D printing. Again this is possible because it is a concept car, but it’s something that we believe could change the car industry in fact.”
“At this stage it’s difficult to have the speed and the volume”, said Hossann, “But for example for small items like some décor, you can imagine in the future a customer might be able to choose a specific area where they can add some specific décor and have this printed at the dealer and fitted to the car.
“We designed the car like a classical designer, but we almost designed the way of thinking about our car. We had a big discussion about the way of thinking about things and developing them. On a classical car you have a door panel, you add some foam to make the car more soundproof inside. Tomorrow we can imagine having an efficient shape for sound so that you don’t need to add soundproofing material, so you can save weight.”