A big deal is made about new-car smell. Realistically, that’s about the only sensory element that seemingly doesn’t factor in to a vehicle purchase. Or does it? Your senses play a crucial role in what you like and don’t like, be it anything from spinach to what you drive. As you might imagine, we’re more focused on the pleasure you get from the vehicle than on what’s for dinner.
Yet…you might love spinach, but your mate does not, and neither one of you understands how the other can feel that way about the leafy green. Regardless, the solution is always the same: one of you eats it, the other does not. But imagine if you’re a Ford designer or engineer; your job is to ensure every customer enjoys that vehicle, right down to the experience their eyes, ears, fingers and nose will have. While eating or not eating spinach may be a conscious decision, our senses are in charge of the subconscious mind, which has been said to control 95 percent of our decisions. Talk about a first impression being a lasting one.
The Ford Focus was the first car to be developed using a new electronic sniffing device for sampling smells emitted by plastic, paint, rubber and adhesives. It was dubbed the “e Nose 4000” and utilized 12 polymer sensors that gathered chemical data from the surrounding air. Ford has also utilized “smell jurors” and household fruit-preserving jars in an attempt to ensure no funky odors be emitted from a vehicle’s interior, such as from the foam. For more than 25 years, Ford specialists have evaluated the scents of potential trim materials, using that expertise to ensure supplier components meet low-odor specifications. Following a human sensory analysis, the materials become standards by which to “teach” the electronic nose. After this training, the instrument became able to distinguish between good- and bad-smelling parts.
“We get a lot of feedback from people saying that they want their new car smell. But not everyone can agree on what smells ‘good’ and what smells ‘bad,’” explained Sandra Edwards, Ford Polymers, Coatings and Corrosion. “Every time we run an odor test, we use a jury of people that are as diverse as possible to get different points of view. We don’t try to eliminate all odors, we just try to keep them in a neutral range.”
The 2011 Ford Edge features upgraded materials, additional accents and fresh execution of colors and forms create an environment that is as comfortable and inviting as it is functional and convenient. “With the addition of MyFord Touch, we created a high-tech look,” said Jim Smithbauer, Interior Design Manager. “It drove our treatment of the center stack, in particular, but also the rest of the interior as well. The MyFord Touch system’s modern look inspired us to push the interior design even more to reflect and complement this cutting-edge technology.”
The exterior gets a similar approach: “We’re taking design to a whole new level, interpreting what people want so that we can deliver it to them. We always look to the silhouette, the shape, the proportion of a vehicle to see if it communicates the emotions we’re looking for. That’s why a Mustang appears fast even when it’s parked, why an F-150 looks tough and why a Fiesta communicates smart, urban and hip,” said Ford Designer, Anthony Prozzi.
Another example of advanced sensory design can be witnessed on the 2011 Lincoln MKX and Ford Edge, with touch-sensitive technology. Touch cells create a tiny, undetectable electrical field; your finger breaks the field and causes the cells to go on or off like a traditional switch. In other words, so long, buttons! A touch of the finger is what activates it, and an audible beep and illumination confirms execution. Touch cells control volume, radio seek, defrosters, air conditioning and more.
“Touch is an extremely powerful sense. We use the science of haptics, which measures how consumers react to physical objects, to determine how a door lock or window switch should feel,” said Pietro Buttolo, Ford Technical Specialist. “Touch is instinctive – people know immediately what they like. Our research found that customers like their controls with smooth transitions that are distinct, adding to the overall quality and confirming the impression of a solid design.”
Being distinctive also affects the sounds being emitted from your vehicle. “As Ford has expanded globally, we now have an increased awareness of what a horn is used for in all of our markets,” said Patricia Seashore, Design & Release Supervisor. “It’s not the same all over the world.” In North America, more and more customers are adapting their horn usage into a friendly greeting, and they want the horn to sound that way.
“We tune our horns to emit a rich sound, just slightly discordant to get attention, but not unpleasant. In North America, we’re getting away from using horns strictly as a warning,” Patricia said. “You do hear them in traffic when someone gets cut off, but they are also used to say, ‘Hi,’ or to let someone know you are there to pick them up.” You know, so you both can head over to the grocery store for more spinach.