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Cooking up that new car smell

Automakers employ 'nose teams' to create distinctive scents for their brands while working to eliminate the toxic fumes of the past.

By Teresa Mears Sep 1, 2010 4:16PM

We all say we love the traditional new-car smell, but the truth is that the new-car smell of the past is the smell of toxic chemicals. That just won't do.


Knowing that smell is an important part of the new-car experience, Ford has a "smell jury" working on coming up with just the right fragrance for a new Ford, reports Forbes.


The smell jury's goal "is to pinpoint a scent that 'produces a sense of well-being inside a Ford,' says Derrick Kuzak, group vice president for global product."


You may be tempted to laugh, but scent marketing is big business. Casinos, hotels and retail stores all employ signature scents to inspire brand loyalty, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. Abercrombie & Fitch's distinctive smell became so popular that customers demanded it be bottled.


The use of scents in marketing is growing. According to Businessweek:

No longer confined to lingerie stores, ambient scenting became standard practice in casinos in the early 2000s and invaded the hospitality sector soon thereafter. Sheraton Hotels & Resorts employs Welcoming Warmth, a mix of fig, jasmine, and freesia. Westin Hotel & Resorts disperses White Tea, which attempts to provide the indefinable "Zen-retreat" experience. (Despite its abstraction, the line was successful enough to inspire Westin's 2009 line of White Tea candles.) Marriott offers different smells for its airport, suburban, and resort properties.

So, you can see why Ford wants a signature scent.


And it's not the first automaker to recognize the importance of smell to auto buyers.

General Motors started a project in the 1990s to create a scent with allure for its Cadillacs, even hiring focus groups to test scents. Once created, the scent was called Nuance and was processed into the cars' leather seats, The New York Times reported in 2003.

The scent -- sort of sweet, sort of subliminal -- was created in a lab, was picked by focus groups and is now the aroma of every new Cadillac put on the road.

Other automakers also employ "nose teams." Volvo, the Swedish automaker that Ford just sold to Chinese automaker Geely, has employed such a team for years and has made the indoor air quality of its cars a priority.

Audi has had a "nose team" since 1985. The four men and two women can't smoke, can't work if they have colds, and can't even do their jobs if they have eaten garlic, the automaker explains on its website as part of a detailed explanation of the team's role. Audi doesn't add scent to its cars, but it aims for a distinctive odor, with a goal of creating a car that appeals to all the senses. As Heko Lassman-Geiger, head of the Audi nose team, puts it:

There cannot be and never will be an odor-free car. That isn't even desirable. You wouldn't want to sit in a noiseless vehicle, either.

Samsung and Sony are among the latest retailers to experiment with scent to lure customers, Fast Company reports, adding:

Car manufacturers have long recognized the smell of a new car as one of the most powerful tools in their arsenal for cementing a love affair between their brand and a new owner. When Rolls-Royce buyers began complaining in the mid-1990s that the new cars didn't live up to their predecessors, researchers tracked the problem to its source: the smell. Using a 1965 Silver Cloud as a reference point, the company deconstructed the scent, identifying 800 separate elements. It then recalibrated the aroma and now sprays it under the seats to re-create the scent of a classic "Roller."

The new car smell of the past is actually made up of volatile organic compounds emanating from materials such as plastic, leather and fabrics. People may have found it intoxicating because, well, it was intoxicating, along the lines of sniffing glue.


As automakers seek to eliminate harmful chemical residues, their challenge is to find another new car smell so enticing that people will overlook the economic benefits of buying used.


How would you like your new car to smell?


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