The interior of a modern car contains many different materials, such as plastics. These, in turn, contain chemical substances. While most of these substances remain ‘locked’ in the material, small quantities can evaporate and give off the smell typical of a new car. Volvo Cars monitors these substances and the smells they may cause in the cabin.
“The emissions from interior trim components are what we monitor,” says Anders Högström, environmental coordinator for interior and climate system technology.
Volvo Cars has had to develop its own standards to establish sufficiently high goals to aim at in this area. Since there are no industry standards to measure ourselves against, all of the components in the interior of a Volvo are tested in relation to our own requirements.
“Materials such as wood and leather have their own natural odours. Then there are additives, such as softening and colouring agents, which add their own distinctive smells,” continues Anders Högström. “Plastics may contain malodorous ingredients which should normally be consumed in the manufacturing process and should be gone by the time the material is used in the car, but which somehow manage to ‘hang around’”.
Volvo Cars interior designers use a sunshine simulator at the Swedish Testing and Research Institute in Borås, an hour’s drive from Göteborg. There, a car equipped with a new interior trim material can be tested by placing it in the simulator for perhaps a couple of hours until the cabin temperature has reached about 65ºC. Analysers are then used to take air samples to measure the levels of TVOCs (Total Volatile Organic Compounds) and aldehydes in the interior. Finally, the members of the Volvo Cars ‘smell test panel’ sit in the car and evaluate the smell on a fixed scale. All of the hundreds of chemical substances used in a car interior are analysed.
“Different people have different perceptions of smells,” says Patrik Libander, a Volvo Cars test engineer involved in the simulation programme. “These are due to differences between generations and cultures, and to the different associations made by different people depending on their own experience. However, this is one of the things that makes my job exciting. Odours can also be irritating and cause problems to people with asthma or other respiratory ailments.”
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