Keith Kelsen’s Scent Narrative: Stinky Car Scents, the Desperate Odor of Ride Sharing

Bad Car Scents can be Very Expensive

The multi-trillion-dollar automobile market of the future including car sharing, ride sharing and autonomous cars, yet the biggest complaint is that the car scents stink.  The need for a scent air machine for automotive has never been greater. Even todays $100 Billion dollar rideshare market that Uber and Lyft compete for stinks.  It has become a social phenomenon.

Twitter has a page


It’s become a Reddit topic,

Why do so many über drivers choose to use overpowering amounts of perfume as well as air freshener in their cars?

Do you Stink?

In previous Scent Narratives, we have discussed human biomarkers and sensors that can monitor those odors. We covered air scent machines, car sickness cures, and even best car scents as solutions.  As we progress from individual ownership to shared vehicles that are “iPhones on wheels” what does this have to do with Scent? Recently, there has been a wide posting of articles and blogs about Scent, stink, bad odors and the industry to come. Here are just a few examples:

“Do you stink? I have been hearing riders complain of Uber rides they have taken lately…the quality and reputation of the “rideshare product” is falling fast. Uber is quickly transitioning into the latest version of the Taxi and …one of the biggest of those problems is stinky, smelly drivers and cars!” – John Panella, DrivingProfitz CEO

Car Scents are Key

Manufactures are catching a whiff of the future.  Making cars smell good is now a manufacturer’s mandate.  Automobiles, more than any other market, is where the next consumer experience is essential. As we watch autonomous cars develop, and drivers become passengers, in car experiences become more and more important.  Like the concept cars of the nineteen sixties that talked of rocket power and featured televisions and phonographs, (even telephones!) today’s auto is being revolutionized and the fiction is reality.

Their vision, less the rockets, have all come to reality in our handheld iPhones and Galaxy’s.  Automobiles will mimic this revolution.  The future may be only a few years away, verses the decades we needed before.  Like the promise of Motorhomes of the past, tomorrow’s cars promise to be truly a “lounge on wheels”.  This is based on Level 5 Autonomy, where occupants never need to take control. It’s predicted that, thanks to connected-car telematics, crashes are rarer than today. There’s no need for a steering wheel or pedals.

Don’t Roll Down the Windows

The interior is now a place to relax and enjoy. Imagine, at the touch of a button rearranging the seats in to watch a movie on a big screen on the dashboard as the autonomous cars motors to our destination. Companies studying haptics and motion sensors describe controlling functions like Scent or air conditioning simply by touching the window. Silicon Valley’s Ultrahaptics, a company I visited recently, is making that happen.

“Gesture recognition has come a long way in the last few years. It’s now affordable for a whole range of different markets and applications…with Ultrahaptics’ technology, gesture recognition in a car is completed with the sense of touch in mid-air.”’ -Steve Cliffe, Ultrahaptics CEO

Amazing to think of the possibilities.  No more knobs and buttons to search for, allowing you to concentrate on the road or whatever.  Yet, the gesture to “clear the air” is typically a wave of the hand.  Could a stinky smell and a natural human reaction to “wave it away” cause an accident?  Unlikely, yet as automakers are revolutionizing the field, they must make clean Scent a priority.

New Technology Means New Problems

Now that the car is a smartphone with wheels, we have new problems to solve. As an example, Automakers love the flexibility of touch screens; eliminating buttons saves a fortune in execution and the long production cycles. Starting with Tesla and now going across automotive lines, touchscreens are going in cabin now, with software designers doing the rest. The future may eliminate controls like the steering wheel all together.  When we imagine a driverless future, do we imagine the hygiene and car scents left behind by the last passenger?

When cars can largely navigate roads on their own, there’s a need for the interior to present itself in a new way.  Today’s design still mimics the model established in the early 20th century.  Conversely, the inside of driverless cars might look more like a lounge.  Yet that experience can be a horrible on if the car scents reeks of “stink”. In previous Scent Narratives, we have described in detail the various lingering biomarkers.

As an Uber driver recently blogged about their experimental autonomous car fleet,

“The problem with the whole concept is that humans stink if not taking a shower. Nomadic lifestyle requires fundamental changes in diet and infrastructure. Ask mongols!”- Rustem Sharipov

The Best Car Scents in Big in Luxury Rides

Automotive industry officials claim fully autonomous and shared-mobility vehicles may be less than a decade away.  Marketing scents for automotive is becoming huge business.  Today, we have Lyft & Uber and new high-tech interiors with automation are already showing up in high-end models. The latest luxury-car models, from Cadillac to Tesla to BMW, information has begun to head-up displays projected on the windshield.  Private limousines, like the BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes Maybach are including Scent solutions on board, so drivers can “clear the air”, especially from previous occupants.  Yet, these are “dumb systems” that can’t automatically monitor things like fouls odors from outside or inside the cabin.  The concept of mood settings in cabin have only been rudimentally addressed by upgraded sound systems and basic ambient lighting.

Car Scents in a “3rd Space”

Ralph Gilles, head of design at FCA NV, (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), was cited in a WSJ article[i] that cars are now becoming more of a “third space” outside the work and home. “Sci-fi is really not fiction anymore—it’s really here.” The industry is in a game changing mode and as the formerly immutable laws of automotive design become mutable, so does our understanding of what a car should smell like.

Technology continues to impact our world, now with car sharing, ride sharing and autonomy. Self-driving technology is driving the change as it requires a major re-think of what it is to be inside a car. Automakers are spending billions on developing new platforms like battery powered and autonomous vehicles. Now, these companies need to figure out what consumers will actually want and how to get them comfortable. Scent plays a key role is extinguishing the current “stink”.

Audi is Making the “25 Hour Day”

Audi has been at the forefront of developing autonomous vehicles, and now has the ambitious Long Distance Lounge Concept in its Ingolstadt, Germany headquarters. Audi’s vision for future luxury car is as a lounge. It’s all aimed at recovering what Audi officials call “The 25th Hour” — that period of the day traditionally lost to hands-on-the-wheel commuting[ii].  Lounge mode offers an LCD screen on the ceiling synched to images while music plays on the audio system, lights on the floor pulsate and flash to the beat and Scent can be diffused to  sync in the right mood.

The Downside is Lack of Cleanliness

The big downside to making the car a multiuse space: the dirt and other messes. Those could be an even bigger problem for those used by shared-ride services like Lyft and Uber’s self-driving vehicles carrying multiple passengers and food or more many hours of the day.  Carsickness associated with autonomous cars, not to mention people over indulging in alcohol since there won’t be “drunk driving” citations and accidents brings forward a big concern

The interiors of these vehicles are going to have to be puke-proof.- Ralph Gilles, head of design at FCA NV.

A complete ecosystem seems a massive undertaking for the industry to support.  Yet, the car itself may be able to solve the problem of freshness.

Already, auto makers are looking to service industries such as airlines and hotels to learn how to better maintain shared spaces. At a recent industry conference, Tim Boundy, an interior-engineering technical fellow at General Motors Co., highlighted the need for “odor management” and other solutions. Among his intriguing suggestions: self-cleaning cup holders. “We are thinking of completely different [vehicle] configurations. If you need a business journey, you can rent a business environment. If you are fully concentrated on working for five hours with a couple of people, then there should be the perfect moving object for you, ” stated Enzo Rothfuss head of interior design at Audi AG.[iii]  Rothfuss continued, “You need a whole ecosystem around it [the car]. That way it’s always cleaned up, [and] the batteries are fully loaded (charged).” – According to the Wall Street Journal[iv]

The Electronic Nose to the Rescue

[v] As we have profiled in previous Scent Narratives, disgusting odors, commonly known as stink, cause all sorts of negative reactions, bad emotional experiences and rejection behavioral patterns.  Unaddressed, this could prove catastrophic to the automobile industry as they bet on car sharing services like Uber, Lyft, Chariot and Maven.  The solution is in detecting these objectionable odors and counter acting them with a pleasant Scent.

Using biomarkers of scent, there are sensors that, like a super-sensitive human nose, can “smell” and identify the chemical composition of an odor.  Currently, this is experimental technology . The future in car can smell sweet or stink. Now it’s up to auto manufactures, Tier 1 suppliers and brands like Uber and Lyft to give the customer what they want; that sweet smell of success.

[i] The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2017 Chester Dawson Reporter, @decodethefirmBiography

[ii] Mr. Dawson, a reporter in The Wall Street Journal’s Detroit bureau, also writes a blog

[iii] The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2017 Chester Dawson Reporter

[iv] The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2017

[v] Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Dr. Hossam Haick, “Na-Nose”, See also Cyranose