One of the auto industry's most coveted auto components is that certain something that's so hard to replicate — new-car smell.
That feature fades in time. But interiors supplier International Automotive Components Group believes aromas have a role to play in future vehicles. IAC is developing smells and application processes that would serve a critical new need in coming years: preventing motion sickness.
It could be a valuable component today, says Rose Ryntz, IAC vice president of engineering, advanced development and material engineering. But it will be an even more important consideration in the coming era of autonomous vehicles, when passengers will be whizzing along sideways and backward without focusing straight ahead.
Ryntz is conducting research into how fragrances such as ginseng, herbal oils and lavender could be implemented into an autonomous vehicle's interior.
"If I can encapsulate those in plastics, I can prevent motion sickness," she said during an interview at the Southfield, Mich.based supplier's research center. But it is a difficult science, she acknowledged. "What causes motion sickness for you, might be completely different for someone else."
Aroma commercialization could occur as early as 2030, Ryntz estimates. And it is evidence of the changing nature of technology as the industry moves toward an autonomous future.
"Autonomy is driving a lot of things," she said. "When you take your hands off of the steering wheel, when you take your mind off of looking at the horizon and off of the cars in front of you, and you're just sitting there backwards or forwards or sideways, there's more capability for you to get motion sickness."
IAC specializes in parts such as dashboards, consoles and door panels. IAC was No. 1 in Plastics News' most recent ranking of North America's largest injection molders with $1.599 billion worth of injection molding in 2017. It was ranked 53rd on Automotive News' top 100 suppliers list with a revenue of $4.4 billion in 2017.
But translating motion sickness into product design language is a challenge, as is determining how to bake the remedy into commercial vehicle materials. Many questions remain.
"Is it different if I sit backwards vs. forwards, vs. sideways?" Ryntz said. "Is it different if I'm going 55 mph vs. 10?
"Developing the test methods typically involves animals or humans. How do I get enough people to go through the testing with the plastic that has a certain smell to it to determine if it will prevent you from getting sick?
"How do I develop the test methods to get to where I need to be?"
Beyond that comes the challenge of figuring out how to make sure the sickness-prevention aroma doesn't fade away, as that new-car smell does.
"Chemistry-wise, how do I get it to last?" Ryntz said of a factory-installed smell. "How do I get it to come out at the right amount of time? And then more importantly, how do I get it to work on 99.9 percent of the people?"