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Ford dreams up a way to kill ‘new car smell’

Ford dreams up a way to kill ‘new car smell’


While some people love it, customers in China — a key market for every automaker — can’t stand it

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Car companies often tweak their vehicles for different markets in order to comply with regulations or serve varying customer tastes. But Ford is apparently considering a novel change to cars bound for the Chinese market: removing the “new car smell.”

Yes, the fresh but sometimes dizzying smell of a brand-new car might be popular in the US, but it’s apparently off-putting in China. More than 10 percent of drivers in the country complain about aggressively smelly new cars, making it a “top industry problem,” Brent Gruber, a senior director at J.D. Power, told the Detroit Free Press. “To put that in context, it is nearly double the problem rate of the second most prevalent problem, excessive fuel consumption.”

Ford spelled out its solution for this issue in a recent patent application (though the consumers who are worried about excessive fuel consumption may not like it). Simply put, the source of “new car smell” has to do with the heating of materials like wood and leather. Ford’s workaround is to accelerate that process. The patent application describes semi-autonomous or fully autonomous cars driving themselves to a nice, sunny spot (probably on some hot asphalt), parking, turning on the heat, slightly cracking the windows, and intermittently running the engine. In this scenario, the vehicle “bakes” away the “new car smell.”

Ford has not had a good go of things in China lately

The patent application is “just one idea” Ford is considering, Debbie Mielewski, the company’s senior technical leader for materials sustainability, told the Free Press. There are no concrete plans to put it into production, if the patent is even ever granted, she says. And to be sure, Ford regularly tries to patent a lot of really weird ideas.

That said, Ford has had a mess of a time in China. The company’s sales figures have plummeted over the last two years, reportedly in large part because Ford insisted on controlling operations there instead of relying on local expertise. Ford recently relented and hired a longtime Chinese automotive executive to run the company’s operations there, though, meaning that it may have finally developed some sense while it also tries to appeal to customers’ senses.