Trust the French to come up with the idea of perfume-filled car Interiors. Valeo’s climate control engineers have bolted on a novel diffuser system to the air conditioner unit, wafting all sorts of aromatic fragrances around the cabin. And, as Matthew Beecham discovers, it’s simply about giving motorists want they want. Eau de Valeo!

Touch and sniff

Valeo’s climate control engineers have developed a diffuser system that is bolted on to the air conditioner.  At the touch of a button, the driver can choose amongst a variety aromatic fragrances regardless of their location.  For instance, they could select a sea breeze while in the middle of town or opt for a reminder of home while in the middle of the jungle.

In an effort to gauge consumer reaction to scented vehicle interiors, Valeo interviewed 1,400 drivers across Europe, Asia and the US. Interestingly, the results show that even within Europe, cross-cultural differences prevail. They found that Southern Europeans showed greater preference for scented vehicle interiors than other nationalities, especially those scents that created a certain ambience, such as wildflower, spring and ‘nature’.  Personal scents were also favoured amongst this group.  The researchers put this down to a desire to bring their ‘home into the car’ thereby creating familiar surroundings. Anti-smoking scents also scored higher amongst these consumers. German consumers, on the other hand, showed a greater preference for other scent types with lemon being a particular favourite. Overall the Germans showed less enthusiasm for scented vehicle interiors than did their Latin counterparts, calling for more information regarding the benefits. Scandinavians showed also great enthusiasm for the idea of scented interiors overall.

In Asia, a large proportion of the Japanese interviewed were less enthusiastic about scenting the interior as a well being enhancing factor but did express a sound interest for anti-smoking scents.

Bertrand Crönert, product marketing director of Valeo’s Climate Control Branch is the man who ‘nose’ what consumers want. “Different people have different preferences.  What this study also shows is that the quality of the vehicle interior really is important to people. We spend so many hours in the car during our lifetime which makes the interior an important area for vehicle manufacturers to consider.”

An added twist is that vehicle makers could potentially use the system to further differentiate their cars.  “The fragrance diffusion system also offers vehicle manufacturers the opportunity to use the system as a differentiator, and who knows, vehicle manufacturers may some day in the long term future use the system to add another dimension to brand identity by associating the specific brand with a tailored scent,” said Crönert.

The diffuser itself contains two or three refills of various fragrances, which are easily accessible for quick replacement. The technology is expected to feature in new cars by 2005

Softly, softly air force

Another innovation emerging from Valeo’s Climate Control Branch is a device to eliminate sharp cold blasts of air from the air conditioner for front seat passengers while providing more thermal comfort for those in the back.  By rethinking the design of a conventional air conditioner unit, Valeo’s engineers have come up with a so-called soft air diffusion system that sends out a blanket of cool air evenly and silently throughout the cabin, effectively eliminating cold drafts. The system consists of a specially designed HVAC unit with integrated air ducts located beneath the windscreen, integrating both ventilation and defrosting functions, together with an air diffusion grille located in front of the defrosting vent. Its flexible and compact design means it can be accommodated to fit a wide range of cars, styles and makes. Bertrand Cronert hopes to see the soft diffusion system enter car production in 2006.

Timely boost for turbochargers

Hella engineers have developed the world’s first electromotive actuator for turbochargers.  Working with turbocharger makers Honeywell/Garrett, the actuator is being used in the 3.9-litre V8 diesel engine version of the BMW 7-Series, BMW Alpina B6, the V8 turbo diesel engine of the Mercedes-Benz S- and M-Class.  The turbocharger has an adjustable turbine geometry, which helps the engine to accelerate better, and makes high torque available at high speeds.  Claimed advantages of the electromotive – rather than pneumatic – actuators are that they react quicker, can be fine-tuned in terms of setting and are easier to fit onto the turbocharger itself.

Hella’s innovation is timely. reckons that the turbocharger market in Europe, where direct injection diesel engines are powering more and more passenger cars, is poised for massive growth. For both diesel- and gasoline-powered vehicles, turbochargers return lower fuel consumption, allow smaller engines to provide the power of larger ones and help to reduce emissions.

The main market forces driving this growth relate mainly to the growth of the diesel engine market, particularly strong demand for direct injected diesel engines, concerns for the need to reduce emissions and offer better fuel consumption and some emerging applications on light trucks and sport-utility vehicles. About 95% of diesel engines are turbocharged.

Just-auto estimate that around 43% of all new cars in Europe were fitted with a turbocharger last year, the highest concentration in the world.  Over the next five years, fitment levels of turbochargers in Europe will rise from around 5m units to over 7.6m units as new emission regulations requiring a 25% reduction in CO² take effect. Most market growth in Europe will be in the sub-B category and supermini segments.

Funky front lights

Hella engineers have developed yet another ‘world first’: a headlamp that shines light round corners.  On sale for retrofitting from March 2002, Hella’s DynaView is made up of two different auxiliary headlamps and an electronic control unit or ‘ItelliBeam’. Each headlamp has two H1 halogen lamps producing two different beam patterns.  The upper third of the curved free-form reflector is responsible for the long-range main beam light, directed straight ahead.  The lower area illuminates the inside of the curve, in a right-hand curve the right-hard headlamp is activated while in a left-hand curve the left-hand headlamp comes into play.   The command is given by a yaw rate sensor in the IntelliBeam control unit which measures the transverse acceleration of the vehicle.  When the main beam light is switched on, the action of steering into a corner automatically activates the appropriate cornering light.  While on the straight stretches of road, the device automatically switches itself off.   According to Dr Damasky, development engineer and project leader at Hella, trucks, off-road vehicles and mobile homes will be the most likely target market. 

Who sits where?

It’s been a busy time for consumer researchers lately.  Interiors designer Johnson Controls recently went to great lengths to establish how often the third row seat in a sports utility vehicle (SUV) is used or whether SUV drivers prefer their groceries bagged in paper or plastic.  The objective of their in-house ‘Who Sits Where?’ study was to gain a better understanding of how consumers choose their seating positions and how they use the space.  Researchers looked at number of factors, including: why occupants select one position versus another; what influences their choice; the age of the person occupying specific seats; and other preferences ranging from the point of travel and destination to how often the family dog comes along for the ride.  The observation research helps Johnson Controls’ designers understand behavioural patterns, providing key insights such as where to fit certain products, when to consider potential removal of certain features form specific areas and where the best opportunities exist to add new products.  For example, knowing that SUV drivers and passengers prefer plastic grocery bags prompted the company to develop a cargo management system that can be used to keep bags secure while on the move.  Also, the knowledge that children are most often seated in the second row of minivans can help determine the best location for the company’s rear seat entertainment system.

Porsche on the piste

The latest ‘must have’ product added to the Porsche collection is a sledge.  Designed to fit the luggage compartment of either a Boxster or 911 Carrera, this lightweight, aluminium sledge will set you back just £122. 

Porsche says its sledge ‘embodies the company’s core philosophies of performance, technology and practicality that go into every Porsche product.’

We’re all eco-drivers now … well, nearly

A recent study commissioned by Goodyear has revealed that although European drivers care about the environment (90%), their environmental knowledge and behaviour remains limited. While European drivers seem willing to do their part for environmental sustainability, their behaviour indicates that they remain focused on short-term personal concerns rather than long term environmental effects. 

In order to determine just how environmentally aware European drivers are, market researchers Censydiam interviewed 2,615 people in 13 countries on behalf of Goodyear. “The main purpose of this study was to increase our understanding of the environmental awareness and the actual behaviour of the typical European driver,” said Ron Pike, spokesman for Goodyear.

The study revealed that most European drivers do actually care about the environment.  Ninety percent have a positive attitude regarding ecological matters and are aware that real ecological problems exist.  But the researchers conclude that being aware of the ecological problems does not mean there is a thorough knowledge of the scientific facts underlying that awareness.  The European driver is confused when it comes to causes and effects.  Just 6% of Europeans scored six out of six in the environmental knowledge test.   In fact, 73% incorrectly indicated that the greenhouse effect is caused by the hole in the ozone layer.

Expert Analysis

Global market for automotive lighting equipment: Forecasts to 2010
Report reviewing the key market drivers for new lighting technologies, and provides coverage of  market trends (e.g. forecasts for global OE sales of HID headlamps through 2010), technical review (reflector and lens design,gas discharge technology, HID lighting), and all major manufacturers

Global market for automotive heating, ventilation and air conditioning
Forecasts and review of the sector with coverage of the market across Europe, North America, South America and Japan


Despite a positive eco-attitude, European drivers do not consistently translate this into concrete environmentally friendly behaviour or driving style.  Only a little more than half consistently drive in an eco-friendly manner, for example, turning off their engine when stuck in a traffic jam (guilty, m’Lord). 

The researchers were struck by the fact that most European drivers are willing to become more eco-friendly when buying and driving their car. They found that 70% of Europeans are willing to sacrifice comfort and just over half (54%) could handle the idea of driving a car with lower performance if it is more environmentally friendly.

However, in terms of initiating real behaviour changes, European drivers are still mainly motivated by short-term benefits and results.  If results are not immediately tangible, they do not opt for the most ecological choice.  When buying tyres, for example, a quarter of those surveyed said that they do not buy tyres that use less fuel but were of a higher quality.

“Changing driver behaviour means that we have to change driver priorities,” said Ron Pike. “One very important step has already been achieved; drivers generally have a positive attitude.  It is now up to the automotive industry to seek solutions on how best to get them back to adopt their behaviour in a way which will have a long-term, beneficial personal and environmental impact.”