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If there is any holiday which inundates all the human senses, that must surely be Christmas. Advent lights twinkle and blink to an accompaniment of carols, and all this melts into the warm aroma of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts. That unforgettable smell of Christmas… What might be surprising is that the smell of a new car (although it has not the slightest hint of cinnamon) also plays an important role in creating the perfect overall impression. After all, who could sit in a new car and not know its special scent?

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        Can you smell Christmas?
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New car has its special scent.

We follow our noses: Among all our senses, that of smell is the most underestimated. Design and performance are of course important factors in a car. But how an automobile smells is also very important – and most of all when one sits in a new car and takes the first test drive. A real car ought to smell of leather, and were the interior to have the scent of flowers then men would be quite disapproving.

A car communicates to all the senses.

Jozef Kabaň

Jozef Kabaň, the chief designer at ŠKODA, has explained to us in detail about the interplay between design and smell:

“I like it when a car has a fresh smell, but at the same time the odour should be neutral so that the scent is rather understated and serves to reinforce the overall effect. A car communicates to all the senses. The visual effect comes first, of course, but just as important is how the materials feel to the touch and the impression created by the car’s smell. It is the designers from the Colour & Trim Department who are most intensively concerned with smell. They meticulously seek out materials such that the visual impression is well balanced and creates a harmony with an equally high-quality impression in terms of the tactile and olfactory perception.”

In an interview with Kateřina Vránová from Jozef Kabaň’s Colour & Trim team, we dug in a little deeper on the subject of smell and design:

How would you describe the perfect smell for a car?

Just as every person has his or her own idea what makes the “perfect car”, smell is also a very individual thing. That means the smell of the car must not satisfy the judgement of only a single person. Because we spend most time inside the car, it is important to feel good there. That means the right smell is important for enhancing the overall impression.

Does the “new car smell” subconsciously encourage one to buy or is that just a myth?

It definitely is not a myth, and I believe that every person clearly perceives the specific smell of a new car. I really enjoy it, too. One can recognize in it the high quality of the materials which the manufacturer has utilized and how it has gone about preparing them. After a certain time the smell of the car will change, but, because all the materials were very painstakingly tested, no unwelcome surprises can pop up.

In designing smell, how do you determine the scents?

We concentrate on the individual materials, which in combination give the car its scent. Therefore, the overall impression depends very much on careful selection of the materials used. Also very important is that we test the materials and their properties as influenced by external influences and the passing of time. It can happen that two materials identical in their optics and texture differ in terms of smell, and that might spoil the overall impression.

 

 

 

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We concentrate on the individual materials, which in combination give the car its scent.

Kateřina Vránová
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Quality and technical requirements of materials are both crucial.

How in fact does one become a smell designer?

A person must have specially developed senses for this work. It’s not something that one can just learn. It’s like the work of a wine sommelier in that a person can constantly improve, but one needs a certain talent as a basis.

What was the worst smell you’ve ever experienced?

So far as cars are concerned, it was at a car show in Beijing, where one of the manufacturers there had used leather or artificial leather for the seats which had been very strongly treated with chemicals. The result was an interior so completely contaminated that a person could scarcely stand it. The acrid stench even made one’s eyes burn.

What is your favourite aroma?

I very much enjoy a whole range of smells – from foods, to perfumes, and the scent of water and the sea. A great experience for me, too, is to smell a brand new car in which nobody has sat yet.

Which comes first: design or the technical aspects?

Quality and technical requirements are both crucial. We do quality assurance testing of all selected materials, and these must satisfy the high standards applied across the entire Volkswagen Group. Nevertheless, the Design Department is always the first to take any new material in hand and to determine its suitability. If we judge a material to be good enough, then the other departments will put it through all the necessary tests and evaluations.

Do German automobiles smell different than American ones?

There are huge differences between the individual brands, but also among the countries where cars are built. A new ŠKODA from Europe has a smell distinct from that of a ŠKODA that was made in China. There are differences, too, for example, between European and American cars. These relate to the selection of different materials suppliers and the various standards of the individual markets.

 

A great experience for me, too, is to smell a brand new car in which nobody has sat yet.

Kateřina Vránová
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The impression created by the car’s smell is important.