Nissan Is Trying to Perfect New Car Smell

Automakers like Nissan are constantly on the lookout for ways to enhance the customer experience. That includes adding new technology and refreshing the interior on beloved models like the Frontier pickup. In a more literal sense, Nissan also wants its cars to have the freshest-smelling interiors.

You can’t deny that the glorious new car smell is one of the highlights of any vehicle purchase. However, this scent is not a given: Even popular new cars can stink straight from the factory. That’s why Nissan is attempting to perfect its vehicles using a dedicated team of sniffers.

Where does that new car smell come from?

The new car smells come from everything inside the vehicle and their construction materials. Cloth and vinyl produce unique aromas. Still, there’s also the unseen adhesive that holds the components together. Before assemblers add these materials to the car, they also accrue odors during the manufacturing process.

No two new cars smell the same because of varying trim levels and the different materials used by each automaker. Once the vehicle is completed, all of these odors gradually evaporate in the air through a process called outgassing. Excessive heat speeds up this phenomenon, which is why you’ll smell it more distinctively in a hot car.

Inside Nissan’s smell lab

Nissan employee Peter Karl Eastland sniffs a steering wheel in a car
Odor Evaluation Lead Engineer Peter Karl Eastland sniffs a steering wheel in a Nissan car | Nissan Motor Corporation

To ensure that riders experience the most pleasing of scents, a Nissan “odor engineer” manually sniffs every component. At the automaker’s technical center in Europe, Peter Karl Eastland performs this task. Although he didn’t go to school to be a professional smeller, he is “blessed with an extremely acute sense of smell, a gift he realized he had at an early age,” Nissan explains. He also holds a master’s degree in chemistry.

Eastland sniffs every interior area of the car in varying conditions to get the most accurate aroma. In addition to smelling the interior materials, he evaluates each for risks of allergic reactions. Eastland says that smell is an often overlooked yet essential part of the driving experience, especially in whisper-quiet luxury models.

Nissan named Tori Keerl the lead sniffer in North America. She says Nissan of America has a standard for what each component should smell like, rated on a scale system. Keerl reveals the most pleasing aroma varies depending upon the market, so each needs a specialized team.

Keerl and her material engineers place the cars in environmental chambers to smell the full range of interior scents. They also take air samples to ensure only small amounts of volatile organic compounds are inside the vehicle. VOCs are the primary culprit behind outgassing, so they’re impossible to avoid entirely. If one material smells too intense, the team convenes to discuss switching it for something else.

In addition, Keerl notes that new car smell delights consumers by triggering their memories. That smell might remind them how hard they worked to buy the car or excitement for taking new adventures. She also says a new car’s smell can improve a driver’s confidence and overall mood.

How to replicate that new car smell

Unfortunately, the new car smell usually lasts only a few months after purchase. Less savory odors, like stinky feet, food, and smoke, replace the original aroma. However, dealers can usually eliminate many odors using ionizers. That’s why certified pre-owned cars smell almost new. 

Air ionizers are pricey, and most consumers and experts agree that cheap car air fresheners aren’t as effective as ionizers. Extend that new car smell by vacuuming, cleaning the air vents, and shampooing the seats and floor mats. If you’re less confident about your cleaning skills, consider hiring a professional detailer

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