How Digital Olfaction Can Create The Perfect “New Car Smell” For Every Driver

By Terri Jordan

The sophisticated human nose can distinguish 10,000 odors. Yet while each scent is defined by its chemical makeup, human interpretations of the same smell can vary widely. Much of what determines an individual’s scent preferences is based on culture and geographic location, creating interpretations of scents that are highly subjective.

In business, subjectivity can sometimes create problems for consistency. Without standardized benchmarks, subjectivity could lead two quality control employees in different factories to assess the same product differently. Meanwhile, vendors and customers often rely on consistency. McDonald’s, for example, relies on its customers being able to stop at any location and have the fries or the Big Mac taste the same as any other franchise.

Consistency in smell is a challenge that Aryballe is helping the auto industry address.

The distinctive new car smell is something that most Americans have grown fond of when test driving and purchasing new vehicles. This smell is so popular in the U.S. that American companies are now selling this particular scent to consumers as an air freshener!

That “new car smell” is actually the result of the combination of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that are released from the vehicle materials, such as plastics, foams, upholstery and glues.

While the American culture associates the new car smell with pleasant thoughts of clean cars, money and prosperity, not all cultures feel the same about the fresh-off-the-assembly-line smell—a fact that car manufacturers pay very close attention to. In fact, 10 percent of buyers in China complained about the odors they found in their new cars, according to the 2018 J.D. Power China Initial Quality Study. In 2017, Ford hired 18 smell testers for their Chinese research lab to sniff car parts and send back any with too strong an odor. This odor preference is strongly based on a general concern of smog and air pollution and might offend a consumer in this region of the world. As a result, Ford started a “vehicle odor remediation” system to remove this new car smell.

Here’s a clear case where subjectivity around smell could have billions of dollars of implications for a company. Until now, businesses across the globe have often tried to rely on human panels as the best-known method to determine olfactive quality. However, human panels are often expensive, involve significant coordination, and are regarded as fairly subjective.

Aryballe’s digital olfaction solution is being deployed as a way to remove that subjectivity and create a standardized method for automotive companies to assess and optimize the new car smell for specific markets and consumers. Digital olfaction delivers more transparent and traceable results as it classifies odor data in a way that is less consistent , objective and repeatable. Digital olfaction mimics how our brains identify and differentiate between odors, enabling companies to assess a critical aspect of their product that greatly influences the consumer experience.

By deploying digital olfaction, automotive companies can ensure both the consistency of new car smell between different plants, and that vehicles destined for different markets have the optimal level of scent to turn that test drive into a drive home.