New car smell comes from the odors of the cabin materials, plastics, and adhesives mixing together to form a cocktail of scents. To make this aroma as good as possible, Nissan has Peter Karl Eastland as the automaker's odour evaluation lead engineer at its technical center in Europe. He and his trained nose work to perfect the fragrance inside vehicles.
Eastland takes a whiff of all the materials that can into the cabin from the leather upholstery to the steering wheel. He has a highly trained nose to identify the details of the odors. In addition to his excellent sense of smell, Eastland earned a master's degree in Chemistry with Forensic Science from Leicester University in the UK.
Gallery: Nissan New Car Smell
The job isn't as simple as just smelling a bunch of car parts. The aroma can change depending on temperature and time, so Eastland has to evaluate materials in multiple conditions.
"A key part of my role in assessing a material is to keep the customer at the center of our focus. With any change or new design, potential odours will need to be part of the wider evaluation on the effectiveness of that change," Eastland said.
Eastland isn't alone. Nissan has engineers with similar jobs in Japan and the United States who perform similar duties for vehicles under development in those markets.
Eastland thinks his job is increasingly important as vehicle's become quieter. With less noise, occupants' senses shift to pay great attention to other elements of the car, like how it smells.
There are also regulatory issues to grapple with. Some of the materials can contain volatile organic compounds that might cause allergic reactions in occupants. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, China, Japan, and Russia have guidelines about the air quality of a vehicle's cabin to mitigate these reactions.