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Truck Talk: Sound off edition

Breaking the silence of electric trucks, autonomous do-goodery, and making the list

One of the unintended challenges arising from the near-silent operation of electric trucks is that you cannot hear them coming, especially if you are legally blind. This week, we look at how some truck manufacturers are soundly addressing the challenge.  

Out of sight

One of the benefits of electric trucks is a massive reduction in noise pollution. The rumble of a diesel engine, the shifting of gears — sometimes rhythmic, sometimes painful — and the whoosh of air brakes being released left no doubt that a big truck was nearby.

But what happens as more  trucks — from delivery vehicles to refuse haulers and semi-trucks — switch to electric power? The sound of silence. And that is not an altogether good thing.

President Barack Obama signed the Pedestrian Enhancement Safety Act (PESA) into law in January 2011, more than a decade ago. It went into full effect in March this year. But it applies only to cars and light trucks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) worked on creating a decibel-based scale for how much noise hybrid and electric vehicles had to emit.

“It should certainly be extended to electric trucks and buses,” said John Pare, executive director of strategic initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind. Pare led the NFB efforts to influence what the NHTSA regulation would cover.

From standing still to less than 6.2 mph, the sound must be 44 decibels. From 6.2  to 12.4 mph, the requirement is 51 decibels. From 12.4 mph to less than 18.6 mph, the regulation is 57 decibels. At 20 mph, 62 decibels. The noise for reverse is 48 decibels.

“Only time will reveal whether the published levels are appropriate to provide an adequate and reliable warning for pedestrians, particularly those who are blind,” Pare wrote in the NFB’s Braille Monitor more than four years ago.

“It should certainly be extended to electric trucks and buses.”

John Pare, executive director of strategic initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind.

Volvo’s electric trucks have four distinct sounds — in Europe. (Photo: Volvo Group)

For trucks’ sake

Truck manufacturers come at the idea of sound offsets differently.


The most engaged appears to be Sweden’s Volvo Group, which developed an acoustic alert system with four unique sounds for its European models in compliance with a European Union regulation model that Pare said is based on the PESA.

A couple have a definitie New Age-y vibe. But each is distinctive in denoting what the electric truck is doing — speeding up, slowing down, reversing or idling. Check out this YouTube video to hear for yourself. The sound board goes live on July 1 for every Volvo truck in Europe traveling less than 12.4 mph.

But they are not being applied to Volvo’s Class 8 VNR Electric that goes into production next year in Dublin, Virginia, where labor unrest has the United Auto Workers on strike for a second time this year.

You’ll know when the truck is backing up, but maybe not otherwise. Brett Pope, director of Electric Vehicles for Volvo Trucks North America. says the VNR Electric is not produced with standard special sound generators but the factory will work with customers for “any particular requirements.”

Daimler Trucks

Daimler Trucks is working on what it calls Acoustic Vehicle Alerting Systems to improve safety for pedestrians, cyclists and children. Like Volvo, it appears to be a European thing for starters. Daimler hints to watch for it on the Mercedes-Benz eActros that goes into production in the second half of the year. 

The Freightliner eCascadia and eM2 go into production in the U.S. next year, time enough to offer them with whatever is in the works for Europe.


Navistar won’t have its first electric truck until 2022. But it is sounding off on its electric CE Series buses, which include a standard noise generator. The low-frequency sound is designed to alert pedestrians and other traffic that the bus is here without being overly intrusive. The generator’s sound gets louder as the bus accelerates and shuts off above 20 mph.

Expect the International medium-duty eMV to include similar safety technology when it launches next year in San Antonio.


The startup electric truck maker will launch the Tre battery-electric with an “off-the-shelf” system that activates below 5 mph. It was not connected on a recent walk-around of the truck in Phoenix, but it will be for regular production in the fourth quarter. And the typical beep-beep-beep sound for backing will be there, too.

The production-intent beta version of the Nikola Tre (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

Autonomous good deeds

Between TuSimple advancing the timetable for its autonomous freight network, Waymo pulling in billions more from investors and Kodiak Robotics forming a partnership with Bridgestone Americas, a good deeds pilot program at Plus got short shrift this week.

Plus is partnering with Schmidt Futures-supported Good Machine venture studio to use monitored automated trucks to help move equipment used for Good Machine’s sustainability efforts to address wildfires, food insecurity, wildlife poaching and illegal fishing. 

The partnership began with a Plus autonomous truck hauling equipment from Winnemucca, Nevada, to South San Francisco to be used for a wildfire detection project in California. 

Big Mack attack

Two bits of news this week from Mack Trucks, which put its best bulldog forward at the National Private Truck Council in Cincinnati.

A newly designed Mack Anthem day cab roof fairing offers customers improved total cost of ownership. The design increases fuel efficiency by up to 2% when paired with side shields.

The taller profile of the roof fairing allows for better airflow over the trailer, reducing drag. The trim tab height is adjustable, accounting for chassis height, trailer height and the distance between the rear of the cab and front of the trailer.

The Mack Anthem with redesigned roof fairing can improve fuel efficiency by 2%. (Photo: Mack Trucks)

Also some tough manufacturing news for Mack in line with the supply chain constraints being felt throughout the industry. Mack’s Lehigh Valley Operations in Pennsylvania will partially suspend production during the last week of June and the first two weeks of July. 

Love you 3000

The Russell 3000 stock index is out with its adds and deletions, annual moves to reflect what’s hot and what’s not in the world of small cap equities. Not surprisingly, electrification companies, many of them that recently exited special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) dot the list of adds.

Startup manufacturers Hyliion Holdings (NYSE: HYLN), Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA), XL Fleet (NYSE: XL) and even deeply troubled Lordstown Motors Corp. (NASDAQ: RIDE) made the cut. On the infrastructure side, Blink Charging (NASDAQ: BLNK), ChargePoint Holdings (NASDAQ: CHPT), and Lidar companies Ouster (NYSE: OUST) and Velodyne Lidar (NASDAQ: VLDR) were included. 

Russell says its annual reconstitution process is critical to “reflect the ever-changing U.S. equity market.” Companies are evaluated to determine where they lie on the “investment styles spectrum.”

Any guesses which of the above might be missing from the list a year from now? Hint: It has enough money to last until next May.

That’s it for this week. We’re open for story tips and ideas. Email me at [email protected]. And you can get Truck Talk in your email on Fridays. Subscribe here.


Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.