Smell, it is often argued, is the most sensitive and powerful of the five senses, and the one most tied to memory and emotion.
Smell, it is often argued, is the most sensitive and powerful of the five senses, and the one most tied to memory and emotion. According to some studies, it affects 75% of our daily emotions and can influence mood, well-being and pleasure. Smell can also create lasting connections between a brand and its customers. In fact, the perfume industry has been built around this connection. Fragrances are developed to evoke a range of emotions—from desire to vitality and relaxation. After all, who hasn’t been drawn into a café by the smell of freshly brewed coffee? Car designers are increasingly competing to deliver the perfect car scent in each market. Ford Motor Company says that smell is a crucial aspect of delivering high quality vehicles to customers. “Smell is one of the most important factors when people buy a new car,” says Andy Pan, an engineer who leads Ford’s Asia Pacific odour laboratory. “We test everything that goes into our vehicles to ensure they look, feel and smell just right. It’s all part of delivering the best customer experience to drivers and passengers.” Ford says that, since 2008, it has been expanding its Asia Pacific odour laboratory in Nanjing, China.
Today, the team consists of 18 ‘super smellers’, who conduct about 300 odour tests each year on materials and components that go into its Asia Pacific vehicles, including in India. No smoking Every year Ford runs an application process to select its team of super smellers in China from across departments within the company and they are asked to judge material samples in 16 jars. “You can’t smoke or have allergies and sinus issues,” says Mike Feng, a Ford smell tester for four years. “Wearing perfume, leather jackets or nail polish is also not allowed, and you shouldn’t use strongly scented shampoo to ensure your senses aren’t compromised.”
Different markets Scents don’t smell the same to everyone, so Ford has odour labs in the US, Europe and Asia Pacific to make sure its vehicles appeal to customers all over the world. “Leather is a challenging material as markets respond differently to it,” says Pan. Ford claims that everything used in its vehicles—seat fabric, plastics or carpet—is odour tested, i.e. materials should have an odour that is perceptible, but not disturbing. If anything is deemed too smelly, Ford works with the supplier to remedy the issue or explore other options.
To test how a car will smell when it’s mass manufactured, Ford says it tests material samples using simple domestic tools: glass jars and ovens. The material samples are scaled to their relative size in the vehicle and put into the jars, which are heated in an oven to three temperatures: 80, 40, and 23 degrees Celsius. Testers add water to the 40- and 23-degree jars to create humidity. “The materials used in our cars need to smell the same in any condition, even on a very hot day,” says Pan.