Material Monday Insight on Scent in Products: New Car Smell

Material Monday Insight on Scent in Products: New Car Smell

Posted 20 November 2017 by Katie Kubrak

Through symbolism of aroma accords, and their non-linguistic delivery, branded fragrances are able to achieve what language could not do. They “express an idea, an archetypal wholeness, which surpasses language while language remains subservient to the more or less worldly business of communicating1.” Further to this observation, it has been researched that certain materials are perceived as more luxurious and valuable if they release smell. For this reason, many brands design olfactory experiences into their products.

This week in “Material Monday: Series 2” we explore a range of automotive industry case studies where engineered fragrance finishing is used in order to bypass the spoken word and connect with the client on a more emotional level through the car’s interior design. Some of the brands that apply sensory engineering, in order to elevate the perception of their products, include: Bentley, General Motors, Ford, and Citroen.

Car interior can be made out materials that include but are not limited to: wood, plastic, textile and leather. While some of these, in its most premium form (e.g. leather seats or coated wooden dashboards), are odourless others may carry a smell (e.g. plastic elements, glues). Interestingly enough, a range of automakers employ specialist ‘sniffers’ to test them for the intensity of their smell. To exemplify, Volkswagen appoints a panel whose objective is to remove the intensity of the interior smell, while Daimler Chrysler AG brings in a ‘Smell Meister’ three times a week in order to test odour of each new element designed for the interior and discard these releasing aromas.

Aforementioned procedures result from growing health and safety regulations, consumers expectation to enjoy the new car scent but also a brand’s desire for a uniform olfactory experience across all models. With this approach, in 2003 Cadillac has introduced a special aroma and processed it into its seats made out of Nuance leather. In order to achieve most long-lasting effect each hide – after being tanned, processed and dyed in order to neutralize natural skin smell – was injected with industrial aromas in a “re-tanning” process.

A slightly different approach was displayed by Ford Spain, which in collaboration with Ogilvy Madrid, has created a perfume called Olor a Nuevo in order to promote its Seleccion line of used cars as the only second hand product that smells new and therefore offers an enhanced user experience. Fragrance was impregnated into seats and dispersed across the interior. The same brand has also partnered with a leading manufacturer of scent diffusers to create bespoke scents. As a result, 27% consumers in US and 34% in Europe believe that Ford Cars have a distinct smell. Citroen with introduction of C4 model went even further to attract customers’ attention. Buyer of C4 can choose from nine divergent scents for the interior, which will last for the approximate of six months. Then, customer receives perfumed letter, in which Citroen brand invites the owner to reinvest in the scent package.

Outlined examples prove that if a product is designed with olfactory experience in mind, it will be more desirable if it was to target only the senses of sight and touch. If this Insight sounds interesting and you would like to find out more, or you would simply like to visit our exhibition launched during London Design Festival 17 titled “London in Seven Scents”, which was released to coincide with “Perfume” exhibition at Somerset House and “Material Monday: Series 2”, please do not hesitate to get in touch. We would love to hear from you!

Below: Leather impregnated with ‘Nuance’ scent

Below: Ford Spain Selecction – New Car Scent Promotional Video


Below: Ad campaign for Volkswagen Smith by Jeff Dahlberg & Benjamin Lutz promotes the new car scent in some of the newest models through olfactory references.

Below: ‘Air Balance’ by Mercedes-Benz is a custom scent you can select for your car. One of the options is ‘Downtown Mood’ with a floral aroma of jasmine and lilac composed over a warm musk.

Below: Paying a premium price for Ferrari FF with wooden handles and sophisticated leather upholstery a customer expects this premium aroma once enjoying first months of driving.