It’s one of the most distinctive, memorable odours of all, and even though there’s evidence to suggest it’s not actually very good for you, the scent of a brand new car is absolutely one you’ll never forget.
However, Ford has just lodged a patent to eliminate the new car odour, because it’s on the nose with its Chinese customer base. Named as a “vehicle odor (sic) remediation system”, Ford literally heats the completed interior to a point where the scents – caused by various chemical combinations used in the materials that go into a car’s interior – are minimised.
The idea of working the whiff isn’t new – prestige car companies like Lexus and BMW have worked on the on-the-nose angle in their cars over the last couple of generations. Mercedes-Benz has taken it to new heights with the latest E-Class, employing an olfactory team to work with a futurist in order to create bespoke scents for Merc’s luxury sedan. No, I’m not making this up.
Why is Ford going to such expensive lengths for the Focus, EcoSport and Escape? It says that up to 10 percent of its Chinese customers complain about the smell emanating from their new cars, prompting the company to form a division tasked with nothing else but working on ways to sweeten new Fords to the noses of the world’s biggest car market.
What smells, exactly? Well, research suggests your nose is detecting up to 50 scents that come from the various glues, carpets, plastics and fabrics used in the manufacture of your car – and we can say from experience that each car brand carries its own distinct flavour.
The CSIRO actually published findings in 2001 that these volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, can actually cause headaches and irritation in some people, and while car companies have long disputed these findings, materials like soy-based fabrics are increasingly making their way into production, minimising the VOC count in the process.
Somewhat ironically, that new car smell only lasts for a couple of months at most. Scientific studies show that the odours diminish by about 20 percent a week. After that, you’ll have to rely on your Squirrels in Underpants dangling air freshener for olfactory relief.