Patent talk: New-car smell removal courting consumers in China

November 23, 2018 by Nancy Cohen, Phys.org weblog

Credit: CC0 Public Domain
"Mmm. Love the smell of a new car!" How often have you heard from that from a starstruck passenger getting his or her first ride in your cruiser. Not so fast. One man's new-car nirvana is another's eeew. Evidently, Ford is thinking of not having to appease either side by keeping it simple stupid: bake out the smell altogether. Ford has an application for a patent that features a system to put an end to the smell.

Phoebe Wall Howard in Detroit Free Press reported that Ford filed a for an odor-removal process that gets rid of new-car smells once the car is purchased. "The car would determine whether conditions are right to expel compounds, and the car would drive itself to a place in the sun and bake away the offensive odor."

This might make some American new-car hopefuls scratch their heads over what could be bad about the new-car , but there it is: consumer tastes in different parts of the world are not the same. "Consumers in China say they hate the new car smell," said the Detroit Free Press. "Consumer feedback from Chinese buyers in recent years has been consistent. More than 10 percent of drivers complained about the issue according to the 2018 J.D. Power China Initial Quality Study," said Howard.

Yes, but that is just China. Ford has the rest of the world to delight, so why be so concerned? Detroit Free Press: "China is the largest car market in the world, so carmakers take notice." [Smell testers pay attention to odors of every car item, from floor carpets to steering wheel. The goal is to reject any that may offend a buyer, Quartz noted.]

J.D. Power's Brent Gruber was quoted as saying that, in that market, unpleasant interior smell/odor remained the top industry problem. "To put that in context, it is nearly double the problem rate of the second most prevalent problem, excessive fuel consumption."

As for a new-car analysis of what constituents cause the smell, the finding was that it is a result of "volatile organic compounds given off by leather, plastic and vinyl," said Howard. In addition, smell contributors may be the chemicals used to attach and seal car parts. The Verge named the source of "new car smell" as having to do with heating of materials such as wood and leather.

So, what does the talk about as a solution? Speed up the heating process. Bake it off.

Quartz elaborated: "The baking process would be accompanied by opening at least one window, turning on the heater, turning on the fan, or running the engine. Ford's proposed system would use sensors to determine if the intensity of the sunlight and the ambient temperature are high enough to trigger the off-gassing and to measure the level of VOCs."

Sean O'Kane, The Verge: "The patent application describes semi-autonomous or fully autonomous cars driving themselves to a nice, sunny spot (probably on some hot asphalt), parking, turning on the heat, slightly cracking the windows, and intermittently running the engine. In this scenario, the vehicle 'bakes' away the 'new car smell.'"

Beyond the process devised as a solution in the patent filing, the interesting outcome of this patent application is in the disclosure itself that was spotlighted, a smell perception divide between the U.S. and China. That disclosure is that the very same smell that delighted Americans turned off Chinese. Is smell that much of a cultural mystique?

Actually, reader reactions and story comments on various sites offered interesting responses to explain divided opinions over whether a new car represented scent or stink.

Americans, suggested one reaction, had positive smell associations, regarding a car as a new as a new addition in life—like walking into a new house, with all its smells of stray shavings, paint thinners and cleaning solvents.

In China, consumers might be especially concerned over factory fallout versus public health. "As Quartz has reported in the past, Chinese consumers who are car shopping think the odor is a bigger problem than poor fuel economy and wind noise, as some worry the smell could be a health hazard."

Last year, a Journal of Environmental Sciences paper titled "Ambient volatile organic compounds pollution in China" said that "Owing to rapid economic and industrial development, China has been suffering from degraded air quality and visibility. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are important precursors to the formation of ground-level ozone and hence photochemical smog." The authors stated that VOCs elicited not only public concern but also a new impetus to scientific interest.

Explore further: Video: Petrichor, the smell of rain

More information: Reactive hydroxylated and carboxylated polymers for use as adhesion promoters, United States Patent Application, 20180327540.

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17 comments

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holoman
5 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2018
Chemicals used probably only shorten life span by 10 years.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2018
Can't you just crack the windows and run the heater at the factory to get rid of the VOCs?
4johnny
5 / 5 (1) Nov 24, 2018
VOCs are not just a detriment to the environment; they are a health hazard directly to _you_.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Nov 24, 2018
Soooo...we pay for them to put something in we don't want so that we can pay them even more to put something in that removes it.

Brilliant strategy.

*slow clap*
rrwillsj
5 / 5 (1) Nov 24, 2018
why a_p, I thought you realized how pervasive such marketing strategies are,

Go to a movie theater. You think it's an accident you have to walk past that hot popcorn smell? Which is also used to try and mask the background stench of massed humanity.

And then, after shelling out the sawbucks for your tickets? You get to sit through interminable commercials.

Calling a commercial a preview? Is like calling a horse in your living room, a big dog.

Thorium Boy
not rated yet Nov 24, 2018
Much betterf to smell the air in the average Chinese city. EEEEWWWWW
Da Schneib
not rated yet Nov 24, 2018
Can't you just crack the windows and run the heater at the factory to get rid of the VOCs?
How about just the fan? With a charger to provide the electricity instead of the battery. And put the car in one of those light rooms they use to dry the paint. Otherwise you have to run the engine to get heat to the heat exchanger to get heat from the heater. Now, from a process standpoint, the engine gets run in to break it in before the car goes out the doors of the plant, so maybe you could save some energy by combining the two processes.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Nov 24, 2018
Soooo...we pay for them to put something in we don't want so that we can pay them even more to put something in that removes it.

Brilliant strategy.

*slow clap*
Funny, but perhaps a bit unfair. I suppose they could take some of the VOCs out by treating the finished materials before they're assembled, but it would probably take more energy. I found the idea interesting because it uses sunlight to do most of the work.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Nov 24, 2018
Go to a movie theater. You think it's an accident you have to walk past that hot popcorn smell?
There is usually a fresh cookie or fast pastry shop with a blower from the cooking area in most shopping malls.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Nov 24, 2018
VOCs are not just a detriment to the environment; they are a health hazard directly to _you_.
That's perhaps a bit overboard. I kinda like my food cooked, y'know?

I surely did enjoy the VOCs from the turkey the other day. Somehow I don't think they'll give me cancer, just sayin'.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Nov 24, 2018
And a final comment: I have noticed that Asians are more concerned about odors than many other cultures and incidentally Americans from cities are, but not to the same extent. I believe this indicates that these are cultural matters, having to do with associations of smells and experiences including early bias from parents.

I once managed during my morning ablutions when I was in Asia to spill some cologne, more than I usually use, on myself, and had one of my colleagues very embarrassedly tell me that one of the workers where I was doing my job had commented on it. I was most apologetic and explained, and was much more careful about how much I used after that.

I also had to rid my father of a prejudice: Chinese use a lot of cabbage, and to the untutored this often smells like urine when cooked.
rrwillsj
not rated yet Nov 25, 2018
I have had several Orientals complain to me about how much Europeans and Americans stink of sour milk. But they have the same complaint about Ughyrs, Tibetans and Mongols. It all depends on whether or not your ancestors raised cattle and horses and other milk-producing animals.

Well, we could talk about the Irish and cabbages. And, as much as they deserve the abuse? The cabbage is endemic to all European cuisines.

It's all about avoiding overcooking or even boiling at all. Cabbage, broccoli, asparagus and similar vegetation are a lot tastier lightly sauteed, quickly broiled or steamed carefully.

The cook-till-it-droops releases the unpleasant chemical compounds that make up the stench.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Nov 25, 2018
I make corned beef and cabbage that would not offend your nose. The trick is to put the cabbage in last.
B Fast
1 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2018
Soooo...we pay for them to put something in we don't want so that we can pay them even more to put something in that removes it.

Brilliant strategy.

*slow clap*

Um, they don't charge to put in the VOCs, its an unintended consequence of the manufacturing process. Yes you can buy "new car smell" poison, but Ford isn't actively putting the stuff in.
B Fast
1 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2018
VOCs are not just a detriment to the environment; they are a health hazard directly to _you_.
That's perhaps a bit overboard. I kinda like my food cooked, y'know?

I surely did enjoy the VOCs from the turkey the other day. Somehow I don't think they'll give me cancer, just sayin'.

Yet paint makers are producing low VOC and zero VOC paint. The government has set limits on how many VOCs are in paints.
Could it be that the "C" part, "compounds" come in different kinds? Could it be that fresh turkey smell is healthy but fresh vinyl smell is toxic? If you search google for "vinyl toxic", it responds first with, "Polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) is the most toxic plastic for our health and the environment" Could it be that we can't judge the health of vinyl by the wonderful smell of fresh turkey?
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Nov 26, 2018
Make it smell like skunk. Foreigners seem to like that smell for some reason.
Eikka
not rated yet Nov 28, 2018
Could it be that the "C" part, "compounds" come in different kinds?


That's pretty much the point. The label "VOC" is being used as a scary soundbite, kinda like saying "There's chemicals in your food!".

No s---, Sherlock.

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