Leveraging Digital Olfaction in Fleet Management

By Fanny Turlure

The current uncertain economic climate, exacerbated by sustained supply chain issues from the global pandemic, has driven automotive fleets to keep cars in circulation much longer than the previous norms. Not only are these higher mileage vehicles costing more to maintain, but there is also an impact on the overall user experience. The more drivers a vehicle has and environments it encounters, the more smells it experiences—and the higher the chances of lingering malodors.

Rental car fleets, new or pre-owned vehicle sales, or even car-share services, rely on consistency and total quality management as a mainstay of their business. This is especially important in the rental car industry as car turnover between customers can be as short as a few minutes and the speed at which they can get cars safely back on the road is perhaps the most critical business metric for a fleet manager. Fleet managers seek tools that help get the next customer behind the wheel of one of their vehicles as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Car cabin odors are one of the most common reasons a vehicle may be out-of-service and typically, the solution comes from the company’s ability to assess the vehicle and its odor. This means that companies are relying on their personnel to make a quick judgment on whether to divert the car for cleaning to mitigate the odor or to return it to service for faster turnover.

Anecdotally, it is not uncommon for the process of returning a car with an offensive odor to the rental lineup to take days, creating a loss of time and revenue for the business. However, allowing a car reeking of malodor back into service creates a poor user experience—often resulting in the lifelong loss of a customer.

Today, rental companies rely on customer complaints and their employees to determine vehicle odor. For personnel evaluating cars manually, checking mileage, fuel levels, wiping down surfaces, cleaning any visual debris in addition to flagging any malodors – all within time-bound constraints – creates an environment for sensory overload and poor judgment. Although employees may be able to detect offensive odors through their own discriminating senses, there is still a lot of subjectivity. Moreover, fatigue, dehydration, and health differences between employees can lead to even more variability in the sensing experience. A sensor-based solution can streamline and standardize this process and enable rental companies to expedite vehicle processing and turnover for the next customer. 

By leveraging digital olfaction solutions, fleet managers can implement protocols in both the intake process and subsequent cleaning processes to quickly identify and assess an offensive odor and its successful removal. Today, this could be implemented as a portable instrument to detect the cabin air quality while a technician performs their other visual inspections.

But soon, fleet managers could install a network of odor sensors that would capture the odor in the vehicle once a transaction is complete, providing an odor snapshot in between each user remotely, without needing a trigger by a human technician. With the help of sensors that can continuously monitor the vehicle for malodors, fleet managers can more accurately avoid providing customers with rentals that need cleaning via a dashboard of their global fleet.

We see many opportunities to leverage olfactive data and technologies in an autonomous vehicle. The computers that make up these self-driving vehicles enable users and fleet owners to gather data from every part of the car – even from its odors. As more fleets move to using autonomous vehicles, the odor sensor becomes even more than just a QC check to something that will ensure customer trust and loyalty.