As electric cars become more popular, engineers, driven by government regulators, are crafting the sounds that will define the highways of the future.

Two years ago, Nissan hired the studio Man Made Music for what seemed like a straightforward task: Design a sound that its quiet electric vehicles could play to announce themselves on the road.

The automaker wasn’t just splurging on a flashy feature. It was preparing for a federal regulation set to take effect next year that would require all hybrid and electric vehicles, which are quieter than their gas-guzzling ancestors, to emit noise at certain speeds for pedestrian safety.

This week, the agency that oversees the rule, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, proposed changing it to let automakers offer drivers a suite of sounds. For now, though, Nissan plans to include just one with its electric Leaf next year: “Canto,” a resonant hum created by Man Made Music whose pitch rises as the car accelerates.

Designing such sounds is a complex undertaking, according to Joel Beckerman, the founder of Man Made Music. With Canto, the team had to address safety and maintain a brand identity, all in a three-second loop that is distinctive yet doesn’t stand out.

“If we do our job in this kind of situation, then you don’t notice what we did at all,” Mr. Beckerman said. “It just becomes natural, it’s just a part of your life, it’s a part of your environment. When you get it wrong, that’s when people notice.”

The team at Man Made Music, which is used to developing audio for TV, movies and radio, spent nearly half of 2017 working on the sound, a layering of sampled wind and string instruments, and analog and digital synth sounds.

“A surprising element we found ourselves relying on were pure ‘sine waves’ from analog synthesizers,” Danni Venne, the studio’s creative director on the Nissan project, said in an email. “We also found that adding bits of ‘white noise’ to the mix gave us a lot of control to shape and color the sound. It’s almost like we built ‘Canto’ from fundamental building blocks of sound.”

While the advent of quieter hybrid and electric vehicles presents an opportunity to build such sounds from scratch, there is a long history of sound design in the automotive industry. Muscle cars have their distinctive throaty growl. Harley Davidson motorcycles have that syncopated “potato-potato-potato” chug. (That’s really what they’ve called it.)

There is also a history of maintaining zombie sounds long after technology has made them obsolete. On smartphones, for example, the actions of locking the device or taking photos are often accompanied by the noises of a mechanical lock or camera shutter. In financial apps, transactions are often accompanied by the sound of jingling coins or a cash register.

In the case of hybrid and electric vehicles, though, the need for sound is about more than the user experience: It’s about safety. About a decade ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that hybrid electric vehicles were 35 percent more likely than those with internal combustion engines to be involved in a pedestrian accident. Hybrids were also 57 percent more likely to be involved in accidents involving bicycles.

In 2010, Congress passed a law to enhance pedestrian safety, instructing the agency to craft a rule mandating that hybrid and electric vehicles emit noise. The rule was finalized in 2016 and requires that such noises be produced when the car is driving at speeds up to 30 kilometers per hour. Above that, tire, wind and other noises were warning enough, it deemed. The move was celebrated by the blind community.

Automakers requested a few changes, though, including allowing owners to choose from a range of sounds rather than just one. On Tuesday, the agency proposed making that tweak, and said that it would accept input on the move until November.

Regulators around the world have been imposing or weighing such requirements. In the European Union, for example, one such rule just took effect in July.

As a result, major carmakers have been working on crafting sounds to meet those requirements. Jaguar, for example, said it worked for four years on the futuristic noise for its I-PACE SUV. For the 2020 model of the Chevrolet Bolt, General Motors designed the vehicle’s sound in-house, using a quiet electric whirring as a starting point, according to Todd Bruder, the engineer who led development of the sound. “It wants to be purposeful, it wants to be pleasing, but also have the ability to warn people that there’s something coming,” he said.

For Nissan, Man Made Music sought to develop a sound that was both functional and emotional — something that represented the aesthetic of the consumer. “If you’re buying an electric vehicle and you’re interested in clean energy, you probably want that car to feel frictionless,” Mr. Beckerman said. At the same time, the car needed to represent Nissan, too.

“It will be by far the highest-frequency contact that people will ever have with that brand or that vehicle,” he said. “It really reinforces the brand.”

Source: The New York Times

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As ghosts, witches, and superheroes wander the roads on Halloween looking for candy and treats, drivers should take extra care to ensure that the holiday doesn’t become truly horrifying.

The scary reality is that Halloween is one of the deadliest days of the year for pedestrians, especially children, statistics show. Pedestrian deaths in the U.S. have spiked recently, reaching 6,283 in 2018, a 3.4 percent increase from 2017. The latest reported death toll is the highest since 1990, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that pedestrian deaths soared by 45 percent from their low point in 2009, with an increasing share of the deaths away from intersections and on busy and dark city and suburban roads.

“Halloween night is like a ‘perfect storm’ of risk because it involves darkness, a huge increase in pedestrian traffic—especially children—and all sorts of distractions,” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s Auto Test Center. “Everyone needs to be ultra-careful to not turn such a fun evening into tragedy.” 

Halloween brings out children of all ages walking on, alongside, and crossing streets. It’s important for them to be aware of their surroundings so they can stay safe.

And there are steps that parents and drivers can take to reduce the risks.

Tips for trick-or-treaters

The tips below are from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Department of Transportation.

  • Parents should accompany children younger than 12 years old.
  • Children should walk—not run—from house to house.
  • Children should stay on sidewalks instead of walking between cars or on lawns, where there could be tripping hazards.
  • Parents should remind children to look for cars when crossing driveways.
  • Pedestrians shouldn’t assume they have the right of way, because motorists may not see them.
  • Go trick-or-treating before it is truly dark, especially with young children. 
  • Parents and children should consider choosing costumes that are lighter in color, which make it easier for drivers to see them. Adding reflective material to the front and back makes a costume easier to pick out. It can even be built into the design.
  • Avoid costumes that make it more difficult for a child to see, especially ones that include masks. If a mask is necessary, kids may want to remove it when moving between houses for greatest visibility.
  • Give children a flashlight to walk with in the dark so they can be more easily seen by drivers. Glow sticks can help, too.
Tips for Drivers

Drivers can find Halloween to be especially difficult, because children often behave unpredictably and can be difficult to see after dark. These tips are from NHTSA and the Department of Transportation.

  • Halloween is especially dangerous for drivers and pedestrians.
  • Drive slowly in and around neighborhoods and on residential streets.
  • Don’t drink and drive. Drunken-driving incidents increase on Halloween. (NHTSA reports that 42 percent of all people killed in motor vehicle crashes on Halloween night from 2013 to 2017 were in crashes involving drunken driving.)
  • Watch for children who may dart out into the street, and always yield to pedestrians. If you see one child, there are likely more ready to cross.
  • If you’re driving children around for trick-or-treating, make sure they’re buckled up appropriately in a child car seat or with a seat belt. Make sure they buckle up each and every time they enter the car, and check to make sure they’re secure before you drive to the next stop.
  • Parents transporting kids for Halloween activities may be tempted to buckle them in wearing their costumes. But some costumes may have added padding or hard surfaces that will make it difficult for the car-seat harness or vehicle seat belt to properly fit the child. Consumer Reports advises buying costumes without padding or hard surfaces, or have your child change into their costume after arriving at their destination.
  • Pull over at safe locations to let children exit at the curb and away from traffic. Use your hazard lights to alert other drivers of your car. 
  • Try to park in a spot where you won’t need to back up. But if you must, have an adult outside to make sure no children are in the way of your vehicle when you do.
  • Don’t use a cell phone or other mobile device while driving. Pull over safely to check voice messages or texts, if necessary.

By being cautious and mindful of safety this Halloween, you can make sure the holiday is a treat for all.

Source: Consumer Reports

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At this stage of the battery electric vehicle revolution, you can’t just walk into a dealer and buy a battery-electric truck. That day’s not that far off though, so you might now be thinking about such a move. There’s a great deal more to think about with BEVs than you may be expecting compared to buying a diesel, including dealing with the utility companies, site planners, planning the probable expansion of your BEV fleet.

Several early adopter fleets are already running electric trucks in field trials and limited service, and they have begun the necessary upgrades to their terminal facilities. NFI is one such fleet. It operates a fleet of trucks between Chino, California and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The fleet currently has 45 tractors, including several natural-gas powered trucks, but so far only one electric Class 8.

“A typical run to the ports and back is about 108 miles,” says Bill Bliem, senior vice president of fleet services at NFI. “Most of the diesel trucks make two or three trips a day, but the electric truck doesn’t have the range to get to Chino and back. It’s running locally around the ports.”

Those range issues had surfaced previously when NFI first dipped its toe into the natural gas pond. They were successfully overcome then and Bliem expects a similar outcome with electric trucks but admits it will take some time. Getting the trucks into service is relatively easy, keeping them working and optimizing utilization is proving a little more challenging, he told an audience at the ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council’s annual meeting earlier this year in Atlanta.

“With electric vehicles, there’s lots of headwinds and also lots of tailwinds,” he said. “California is offering lots of incentives toward BEV adoption to help meet its clean air action plan of zero emissions by the end of 2020. The costs are coming down as the technology develops but there are still lots of unknowns; like the true total cost of ownership, for example. If anybody tells you that total cost of ownership is going to be less than a diesel, it’s only an assumption. Nobody knows yet. It has not yet been proven.”

Bliem is learning as he goes, and he says there has been a lot to get his head around, such as how much energy his trucks will be drawing off the grid.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. residential customer uses approximately 909 kWh of electricity per month. “Based on the estimation that we’ll need 2.3 kilowatt-hours per mile to run a Class-8 electric tractor, we’ll get one day of work out of one month’s energy consumption for a typical household,” he told the audience. “When you multiply that by 15 tractors, which we hope to have by the end of the year, we’ll need to have fifteen household’s worth of energy every day.”

There will be some areas where that amount of power just isn’t available, due either to local demand or infrastructure constraints.

Energy availability

Ryder System Inc. discovered these constraint problems during advance planning work for electrical infrastructure at some if its locations in California. Chris Nordh, senior director of advanced vehicle technology and energy products told HDT in January during the CES show in Las Vegas that after about 25 installations, it became obvious that some of Ryder’s older locations did not have enough spare capacity for more than six or seven light-duty electric vehicles.

“There are a number of things that’ll help increase the number of vehicles that you can have at a single site, but at some point you will reach a threshold, and yes, that is an issue,” Nordh says. “Most of our customers don’t have the kind of density that, for example, a FedEx or a UPS has with hundreds of vehicles at the same site. Most of our customers are 5 or 10 trucks and so they will have an easier time adopting electric vehicles than some larger operations.

“Interestingly, you have an almost inverse relationship when it comes to electric vehicles. The first vehicle that you get is quite easy to deal with,” Nordh says.

The building probably already has 220-volt service and it’s easy to install a 220-volt, level-2 charger. For the most part, the vehicles that are available today, especially smaller, shorter-range vehicles don’t need fast charging capabilities and they are used only 10 hours a day so they can be charged conveniently and cheaply overnight. But it can get complicated when you start getting into larger and larger implementation projects.

“In our experience with our buildings, it starts getting rocky right around 10 vehicles, maybe a little bit more, and in a few cases, a little less,” he says.

In NFI’s case, with its higher demand Class 8 trucks, Bliem is guarding against scenarios that would result in higher demand charges — upcharges utilities require you to pay when your use power at times of the day when there is peak demand for electricity. 

“Electricity costs, unlike diesel, can vary with the time of day,” Bliem noted. “It will often cost you more to charge at three o’clock in the afternoon than it does at 1:00 AM, so you need to be aware of the utility’s demand charges.”

“We had to look closely at when our trucks were finished their daily runs and could be charged compared to when we were actually charging,” said Bliem. “We are installing 550-kilowatt chargers in one location to charge 10 trucks, but we don’t want to be charging even five trucks at the same time because that drives demand charges up. If that happens, we’ll be paying more for power for the entire month because of that high peak demand. To control these charges, we’ll need to align the charging schedules with the drive cycles in such a way as to minimize peak demand.”

Site management

The infrastructure is another matter altogether. Upfitting an existing site with the appropriate electrical service takes time, and depending on the proposed installation, it can involve discussions with utility companies as well as landlords if the property is leased.

“The first question is whether the utility company can even get enough electric power to the site,” Bliem said. “They may need to upgrade the transformers, and if so, is there funding available to do it? Obviously, we don’t want to make a million-dollar investment in a site we’re leasing.”   

Cities will sometimes pay part of the cost of the infrastructure, but then the utility may have partial ownership of that infrastructure. Negotiations of that nature can significantly increase the lead time on the project. On top of that, fleets will need to involve an engineering firm, as well as the utility, from the beginning.

Fleets considering electrification will need to work with an installation partner that can assess the facility and energy usage and provide some guidance in reducing electrical loads in the building itself, such as lighting retrofits or solar solutions. Other options such as smart charging can be used to balance electricity demand, and on-site battery systems can be charged at off-peak times in order to charge the vehicles during peak times if necessary.

Few fleets will have the inhouse expertise to pull this off alone, so Nordh suggests working closely with the utilities to take full advantage of their expertise and experience.

“As an example, some utility companies in California are reworking their rate structures right now in order to move away from the peak demand charges and instead create a sort of subscription basis for how many kilowatts the customer will use,” Nordh said. “If you have five vehicles, you have one type of subscription; if you have twenty, you have a different type of subscription. We’re seeing good progress in California and I’m starting to talk to a few other utilities that are thinking the same way.”

One thing Bliem has learned from his experience so far is that there is no one-size-fits all approach to the infrastructure needed to supply that power.

“There will be different approaches for every scenario,” he says. “And, purchasing electricity as a fuel is a completely new experience. We’re trying to negotiate with utility companies, and the good thing is that those companies are looking at this as a major sale, so they are interested in talking with us.”

In NFI’s case, they are building infrastructure for their own trucks. In Ryder’s case, Nordh is looking at charging solutions for the Ryder depots where electric vehicles are based, as well as customer locations who have long-term leases on electric vehicles.

“The transition from ICE to BEV is proving to be anything but seamless and we are finding that we have to play a larger role in helping our customers adopt this new technology,” Nordh remarked. “There is a need for education across the customer base right now. The skill set they have for managing a diesel fleet doesn’t always translate to the electric vehicle side.”

Source: FleetForward

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Rain is weather. Snow is, too. So, that must mean that all-weather tires work for both raindrops and snowflakes, right? As with almost everything else, the answer is: it depends. As seasons change and road conditions worsen, it’s essential to understand the differences between all-weather tires and winter tires.

What are all-weather tires?

All-weather tires, also known as all-season tires, offer a mix of the benefits that you gain from summer and winter tires. To maintain their signature well-roundedness though, all-season tires compromise on some features for more extreme conditions like heavy rainfall or significant road icing.

For example, all-season tires can be louder and less responsive than summer tires because they have deeper treads. On the other hand, all-weather tires’ treads are not quite as deep as winter tires’, which reduces their stopping power and traction on icy roads.

All-weather tires offer many benefits for drivers who live in areas with milder seasons. For example, drivers with all-season tires can enjoy the convenience and cost-savings of not needing semi-annual tire changes. Plus, all-season tires offer a quiet ride and more than enough traction for everyday driving! Although all-weather tires are great for many people, motorists in places with particularly harsh winters or extra-long rainy seasons should look for more specialized options.

What are winter tires?

Winter tires are designed to meet the challenges of rough winter weather, thanks to their softer rubber, specialized tread design, and traction-enhancing biting edges. If you live and drive in a climate that experiences severe cold, ice, and snow, then winter tires definitely can come in handy.

Wondering how differences in rubber and design impact winter tires performance as compared to all-season tires? Here’s how these components set the two types of tires apart.

Tread rubber

Most winter tires contain softer rubber than all-season ones. The purpose of such rubber compounds is to prevent tires from stiffening in low temperatures, which reduces traction when you need it most. Winter tires’ unique rubber compounds are designed to remain flexible, enabling them to grip the road better. That’s one reason many technicians recommend switching to winter tires when the temperature consistently dips below 45°F, even if the forecast calls for clear skies.

Tread depth and design

Winter tires come with deeper tread depths and more detailed tread patterns than all-weather tires do. The deeper treads of winter tires grip the road, enhancing traction. The unique tire tread patterns channel snow and slush out and away from the tire.

Biting edges

“Biting edges” are tiny, shallow slits within a tire’s tread blocks. Each slit “bites” the road as a tire turns, improving traction on snow and sleet. While both all-season and winter tires have biting edges, winter tires have more than all-season tires, giving them additional traction in wintry road conditions.

Overall, winter tires have an advantage in areas where winter temperatures regularly hit 45°F or below. In a test conducted by Popular Mechanics, winter tires improved performance in braking (up to 5%) and cornering (up to 20%) on snowy and icy roads compared with all-weather tires.

All-weather vs. snow tires: which should you get?

The decision of whether to equip your vehicle with winter tires or all-season tires depends on where you live and drive.

If you drive somewhere that rarely gets hit with snow or ice, all-weather tires should be just fine. But if snow, ice, and freezing temperatures are a common occurrence, it’s best to invest in a reliable set of winter tires.

Dashing through the snow takes on a whole new meaning when you do it with the right tires.

Source: Firestone

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The holiday season is finally here, and with it comes many things: comfort food, holiday parties, and spending time with family and friends. With everyone traveling to reconnect with their out-of-town nearest and dearest, it’s no wonder the holidays are the most traffic-heavy time of year. Over 100 million people took to the roads for the holidays in 2018! How many will be hitting the highways in 2019?

Traffic isn’t the only concern drivers have while traveling during the holiday season. Snowstorms, rain, and sleet can roll in any time. Thankfully, these threats don’t have to slow you down, or worse, leave you stranded. Before you hit the road this holiday season, here are some ways to prepare your vehicle for that first winter road trip.

1. Get your battery tested.

Everything from the engine to the radio relies on your battery, and cold can impact your battery more than you think. A cold battery is not only trying to warm itself up, but it’s also trying to get everything else in your vehicle running as well, such as your engine.

Plus, your engine’s oil thickens as temperatures drop. The thicker the oil, the more power your car battery requires to move it to where it needs to be. With all this strain, it’s no wonder your battery has a higher chance of kicking the can during the winter months.

Luckily, a battery test at Firestone Complete Auto Care can give you a comprehensive look at your battery’s charge. This quick and simple test can save you a lot of heartache down the road. Imagine your car not starting after you stop for gas, halfway between grandma’s gravy and who-knows-where.

2. Check your windshield wipers.

Nothing is more frustrating than driving down the highway and turning on your wipers, only to realize they’re making it harder to see! Old wiper blades can smudge your view, make horrible scraping noises, and even scratch the windshield glass. Layer on dirty road slush and flurries of snow and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Replacing your windshield wipers is an easy thing to overlook. But when you need a clear view of the road, the quality of your wipers makes all the difference. Have your wipers blades replaced every 6-12 months.

The correct windshield wipers should sit firmly against your windshield and apply even pressure. Bring your vehicle to Firestone Complete Auto Care for TRICO® wiper blades and we’ll top off your wiper fluid, too.

3. Get an oil change.

Many technicians will tell you that changing your oil is the easiest way to extend the life of your vehicle. This is especially important during winter. Motor oils are rated for cold resistance. So, having a less-than-ideal oil in your engine during a cold season could mean sludgy oil and poor engine performance.

Before embarking on your winter road trip, schedule an oil change to get the best cold-rated oil for your vehicle. Even if you aren’t due for an oil change, it might be best to go ahead and get fresh oil that’s designed specifically to withstand lower temperatures. This simple to-do will better prepare you and your engine for the long (and potentially icy) road ahead.

4. Get winter tires.

If you thought winter tires are just regular tires that say “Winter” on the side, think again! There are many benefits to installing a complete set of winter tires on your vehicle, especially for a long drive or winter road trip. Here’s a quick look at the differences between winter tires and other tires when put to the test in low temperatures.

Non-winter tiresWinter tires
Stopping PowerLow stopping power due to decreased traction from shallow treadsIncreased stopping power from deeper, cold-weather optimized treads
TractionPoor traction, as normal rubber hardens in the cold and will struggle to grip the roadBetter traction, since the rubber in winter tires remains pliable in low temperatures, keeping the tire from hardening and offering better grip
HandlingUnreliable handling since the tread is not designed for icy conditionsSteady handling, as deep tread grooves help maintain traction and handling in wet, snowy, or icy conditions

Knowing the benefits of winter tires is important. Winter tires can help reduce the risk of a blowout and increase your steering control in icy conditions. When freezing temperatures hit, winter tires can help you get to your holiday destination safely.

Source: Firestone Complete Auto Care

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