In a prime example of "skating to where the puck is going, not where it's been," the Ford Motor Company is developing technology not just for self-driving vehicles, but self-deodorizing vehicles as well.
The company last week filed a patent application for technology that would "bake" the oft-loved new car smell out of recently purchased vehicles. Turns out, the new car smell -- so loved by many Americans that there are countless products devoted to returning it to older vehicles -- is among the chief complaints of buyers in the Chinese market, according to the J.D. Power 2018 China Initial Quality Study.
"Unpleasant interior smell/odor remains the top industry problem in that market," Brent Gruber, senior director for global automotive at J.D. Power, recently told the Detroit Free Press. "To put that in context, it is nearly double the problem rate of the second most prevalent problem, excessive fuel consumption."
The Power study said Chinese consumers rank their disdain for new car smell above other issues including road noise, engine power and fuel consumption. And, since China is currently the world's largest passenger car market, manufacturers took notice.
In 2017, Ford announced it hired a team of 18 scientists, dubbed the Golden Noses, to identify the cause of a new car's smell. The team found that volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, from the material in the vehicle's interior cause the smell, according to the application. Heat in the vehicle eventually causes the odor to be released until it disappears.
According to the patent application, Ford's scientists developed a process to purposefully heat the car until the smells bake away by running the engine, heater and fan and cracking a window. The process includes special software and air quality sensors that would allow the vehicle to determine whether conditions are right to remove the chemical compounds, even driving itself to a sunny spot and handling the whole business autonomously when fitted to driverless or semi-autonomous vehicles.
The U.S. Patent Office hasn't made a ruling on the application yet. Representatives from Ford said the company doesn't have any plans to put the technology into production, but it could be implemented in coming years.
"While 'new car smell' is ingrained in American culture, we know Chinese customers dislike that scent," Debbie Mielewski, Ford's senior technical leader in materials sustainability, told the Free Press. "This patent is the result of years of research and is just one idea we are considering for future use."
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs, while pleasantly odiferous to some, can have harmful side-effects such as sinus irritation, headaches, nausea and dizziness after exposure. Meaning, Ford's new technology could lend some benefits to the worldwide market, even if you don't mind the smell.
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Contact Daniel Figueroa IV at email@example.com. Follow @danuscripts.