Love goes through nose.
Always follow your nose.
From synthetic materials, textiles, leather and wood up to paint, waxes, natural fibres and rubber – the Mercedes-Benz olfactory experts are responsible for making decisions on all the materials used for the interior of a new car. Just like in a love affair, it is the sense of smell in a new car which plays an important role in the feeling of well-being and comfort. Claudia Schempp is a member of the Mercedes-Benz “nose team” for production and material technology. For 25 years she has been analysing the smell emitted by all the materials and components installed in the interiors of the cars.
Her measuring device is her own nose and the 47-year-old can really rely on it. “That is an acquired art, not a natural talent,” laughs the trained chemical-technical assistant.
A question of training.
Everybody can differentiate between up to 10,000 smells. “The difficulty lies in not being able to name them exactly so people do not perceive them consciously. As I smell every individual material again and again, I know exactly how it smells,” the expert says.
She can identify materials by their smell and even differentiate between various kinds of synthetics. Polyurethane, for instance, smells different from polypropylene.
Smells are purely emotional.
The very first moment you get into a new vehicle is very important. In these first few seconds our senses decide whether we are going to experience a feeling of well-being, whether something bothers us or whether the car suits us. Even before materials are experienced through the sense of touch, or exclusive details in the interior catch the eye of the passenger, he has already got a feeling for the vehicle through his sense of smell. Smells are transmitted straightaway from the nose to the brain and stimulate an immediate emotion. This has been proved scientifically. “When a smell is disturbing, then all the other positive impressions received by the other senses – irrespective of how exclusive they are, cannot be appreciated properly. One simply does not feel at home,” says Claudia Schempp. That is why the smell is the foundation of the hierarchy of comfort.
Nosing around for school marks.
Since 1992 testing the smells has played an important role in Mercedes-Benz car production and since then it has been constantly improved. All the materials to be used for a new vehicle are placed separately into household preserving jars and heated up to 80°C. That corresponds to the temperature that can arise in a vehicle after it has been standing for a while in hot sunshine. After letting them cool down for a short time, the olfactory experts smell the result in the preserving jars and give them marks according to the system used at school. Everything that gets an average of between one and three is regarded as being not disturbing and passes the test. “Each individual material also has to smell the same. The supplier is not allowed to make any alterations to the ingredients used for the material or its manufacturing process,” explained the smell tester. Materials getting a mark of between three and six fail the test and have to be improved by the supplier.
Exclusivity for all senses.
Before a new vehicle goes into series production, the Mercedes-Benz “nose team” take their seats in the finished car to test just how all the materials interact with each other. “With this overall test, we are able to make sure that the unobtrusive smells of the various components do not combine to create an unpleasant aroma.”
“And on the other hand, we can also check whether any individual smell is dominant and thus disturbing,” continued Claudia Schempp. The only smell that is allowed to make a conscious impression in a Mercedes-Benz is that of leather.
Get in and feel home.
For the olfactometric test, the interior of the finished car is heated up with big radiators so that the smells of the materials used can develop to the full and combine in the closed vehicle. The experts take a sample of the vehicle’s interior air which is then transmitted to a connected olfactometer, a special instrument for measuring smells. During the testing cycle, the sample is strong at first and then thinned down more and more with neutrally smelling clean air and these results are then judged by the experts. “With this testing method we get a reading showing us just when and how strongly the smell of the interior is consciously noticed,” says Schempp. Mercedes-Benz vehicles can neither smell of nothing nor all the same as the interior fittings and composition of the materials vary from one model to the next.
While doing their work, Claudia Schempp and her colleagues set their sights on creating an interior smell for the vehicle that is as neutral as possible: “To get in and immediately have a feeling of well-being with the very first breath they take – that is what we want to give our customers.”