Who, What, Why: What's the point of scented cars?

Flowers in car

Car manufacturers are dabbling with fragrance systems. Just what is the point of scenting a car?

Get into a minicab and it's often the first thing to assail the senses - powerful air freshener diffusing silently from a plastic tree attached to the mirror.

Some car-makers are now taking things into their own hands. Peugeot offers portable perfume diffusers. General Motors is experimenting with built-in fragrances. The Mercedes S-Class already offers a "perfuming system" as an optional extra costing £360 ($607). Its new C-Class will follow suit on its release in June.

Smell is one of the last frontiers left for car-makers. The MP3 player is there, dashboards are tactile, and no-one much cares about what's under the bonnet anymore, says motoring journalist Quentin Willson. "In the past you could put stripes on the side of your mini. Now you can personalise the interior with a smell." Aromas might help with alertness. But's an extra designed to make money, he suspects.

The answer

  • Diffusers personalise the smell of a car interior
  • Allow manufacturers to distinguish their cars
  • May alter a driver's mood or alertness levels

In Mercedes' system a perfume atomiser is housed in the glove compartment. A fan pushes the air out into the car for five-minute periods before switching off automatically. There are four fragrances available - "nightlife", "downtown", "sports" and "freeside" - a mix of citrus and tea with notes of cedar, patchouli and ambergris. The system can be switched on or off, has three settings, and smells can be changed by swapping the fragrance bottle.

The Mercedes fragrance bottles

Specialist firm ScentAir carried out consumer research for Ford in the US. According to Ford spokesman Dan Mazei, basil inspired the mind to wander - perfect for a road trip - while fig turned mundane errands into a special journey. Ford opted not to develop fragrances in its vehicles. But at GM, spokesperson Sharon Gauci said recently that "fragrance delivery is one of many (ideas) in the exploratory phase."

Who, what, why?

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Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond has his doubts. He prefers cars to smell old. "They should smell of leather and wood."

If perfume systems take off, passengers may find themselves at loggerheads over the correct aroma. In case anyone's forgotten, you can always open the window.

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