Can't afford a Ferrari? Well, Faurecia SA, the French auto parts maker, has what might be the next best thing: A system that makes your car sound like one.
Faurecia is offering car makers a mini loudspeaker that can amp up the muffled sound of a small engine's exhaust so it has the roar of a supercar's.
That's perhaps not good news for the neighbors but a possible boon for drivers aching for the head-turning noise of a Ferrari without spending $250,000 to get it.
Faurecia is showing its loudspeaker at this week's Frankfurt auto show. The unit of France's PSA Peugeot Citroën group has recognized that tougher emissions-control legislation is making cars quieter due to the extra technology required inside the "hot" end of the exhaust system to reduce CO2 emissions and pollution like particulates. Modern cars with diesel engines generate more noise from the engine itself than from the tail pipe.
Engines are also getting smaller as manufacturers try to cut fuel consumption without sacrificing power, a trick they pull off by using exhaust gases to help drive the engine through turbochargers. That can give three- and four-cylinder engines the sort of oomph but not the noise once associated with bigger engines. The throaty roar of a V-8 that some particularly in North America would say is the sound of automotive freedom is disappearing.
"There's a lot of interest from North American manufacturers," said Peter Lakin, head of sales, marketing and programs at Faurecia Emissions Control Technologies. German auto makers have also shown interest, Mr. Lakin said.
Faurecia's system uses sophisticated software that captures what a car's engine is doing to drive a loudspeaker contained in the muffler, whose only role normally is to reduce sound.
Through the loud speaker, Faurecia's system that will be preinstalled at the factory will also allow drivers to select from a few different exhaust sounds ranging from quiet to sporty.
The system also uses its software to strip out annoying ambient sounds, like the whine of the turbocharger, by using active noise control technology to cancel out the unwanted noise, similar to noise-cancelling headphones. The noise signal frequency picked up by a microphone in the muffler is slightly modified and played back over the loudspeaker so that the original sound isn't audible.
Automotive tuneup stores selling noise-generating systems already exist but they play different engine or exhaust sounds over the speakers inside the cabin, giving drivers the impression that they're driving a souped-up Lamborghini. There's no such sound outside the car.
A key component of the system is the loudspeaker that will nest inside the muffler and will be "hardened" so that it will last the life of the car.
Mr. Lakin says the additional cost won't be all that significant, as the dynamic sound system replaces much of the muffler. "In future, we could even get rid of the muffler altogether and just use a speaker."
Faurecia makes exhaust systems for most if the world's automotive groups, including Italian supercar builders Ferrari and Maserati, who have teams of engineers tuning their cars' engine sounds and acoustics.
Will supercar makers that spend millions getting exactly the right sound from the tail pipes of their V8-engined sports cars object to more humble vehicles making the same noise from a computer chip?
"I don't think you can patent a sound. They may be upset about it, but I don't think they could stop us from doing it," Mr. Lakin said.
- Audio Technology