8 min read
The Science Behind Creating the New Car Smell
With electric vehicles making significantly less noise than internal-combustion engines, the focus of our senses is going to shift to the smells around us. Nissan has dedicated an entire team of professionals to determine and replicate the perfect "new car smell".
What Causes the "New Car Smell"
The car smell is a scent that is often associated with a new car. It is created by the chemical reaction of plastics, leather, and other materials used in the manufacturing process. The scent is also produced by the off-gassing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during the initial heating and driving. Currently, auto manufacturers do very little to address car odours, however, they take a hit when it comes to initial quality surveys.
Most people are unaware of the amount of work to design the perfect car smell. According to Ryunosuke Ino, who works from the Nissan Technical Center in Japan as a technical expert in the Vehicle Interior Air Quality department and his outlook on the topic is "The smell of a car should be balanced carefully across the seats so that passengers can experience it in every corner."
Automotive giants such as Nissan have been working hard to recreate the new car smell for their customers. To do this, they use artificial odours and scents that are usually stored in a cartridge and can be delivered through the air conditioning system. The goal is to enhance the experience of driving with a new car and mask any unpleasant smells that may be lingering in the vehicle.
The science to the new car smell results from the manufacturing process. Some people believe that this scent can be attributed to chemicals such as phthalates, which are used to soften plastic to make them more flexible. This chemical has been banned in many places because it is harmful when inhaled or ingested over time.
The chemical that creates the smell for new cars comes from two different sources. The first is a phthalate plasticizer, which makes plastics flexible and resilient to damage. The second chemical comes from an anti-rust agent called trimethyl pentanediol diisobutyrate or TMPIBA, which protects against corrosion and rusting on metal surfaces like steel and aluminum panels in the car body.
The tests for these chemicals are done in light chambers (as seen in the photo below). They use spare rooms to test their cars because they believe this will provide more accurate data about how the vehicle will behave in different conditions. The Nissan light chamber is situated in a warehouse-like building and comprises three rooms, each with its purpose: one for testing, one as office space, and one as a break room. The chamber is designed to simulate weather conditions such as snow, rain, sunlight, and darkness. The light section is a closed room with fluorescent lights that mimic the sun's heat, respectively.
The testing lab has been doing these tests to ensure that its cars are safe for consumers. They have been doing this by testing the durability of materials, checking the stability of the car's body, and examining how well they can withstand extreme weather conditions. This facility performs the "smell test," which involves opening up a new car to see if it smells like new or even has any unpleasant odours inside.
The automotive industry has been working on perfecting that new car smell that you've come to know and love. Manufacturers have found ways to produce these chemicals on a large scale. The smell is a big part of how we experience our world, and the car has its own unique scent. Some love it, some don't, but one thing's for sure: The car smell needs to be something you can trust. We've created this smell in concert with a whole host of specialists like perfumers, researchers, and artificial intelligence experts.
Ino's team is focused on creating a pleasing atmosphere in the cabin. They also prioritize looking at what other parts suppliers can do to bring back as many industry innovations as possible. One way is by addressing the smells in your car. Proper air circulation and exposure to sunlight can improve the smell of your vehicle by reducing odours.
A study by the University of Toronto found that people in Canada have a distinct smell preference. Recent research suggests climate influences the smell preferences of new car buyers. As a result, Nissan created a custom aroma for their new car buyers to appeal to different tastes. Nissan noted that customers in Canada smelled other new cars and consulted with an aromas specialist to create a custom aroma added when the vehicle is built at each of its plants.
Nissan offers regular training workshops and invites employees to join their new scent strategy meetings to optimize the team's smell-detector skills. They also host employee focus groups to get their scents and solicit feedback through employee satisfaction surveys. Nissan takes pride in the meticulous care and pays attention to the details that make their car fleet stand out, including how they train the people responsible for quality control. This training includes a section specifically dedicated to the team's olfactory sense, ensuring that the "new car" smell is always just as it should be.
Ino's sense of smell is finely tuned. He would know. Though his field tests weren't exactly the most glamorous, he makes a living off of them. To ensure there was no natural odor substance in the room, he had to sit and do nothing for about two hours before conducting his tests to ensure that any odour he detected in the car came from the materials and not from himself. To ensure his sense of smell is clean and his impressions are free from soaps or perfumes, Ino wears a Nissan-logoed uniform washed without detergent. These days, Ino conducts his tests under much better conditions. He sits down in the vehicles and relaxes—and waits for smells to come to him.
It may not come with a certificate of authenticity, but a new car smell is a status symbol as a diamond to many people. And given its scarcity in nature, it's also as valuable. So we couldn't deny you—or ourselves—a little more science on the components of new car smell. Knowing a little about these volatiles and their effect on our moods and behavior can help you decide everything from what car to buy to when you should drive it.