Nose of Nissan
The interior smell of a new vehicle is an important factor that contributes to the overall driver experience. Creating an emotional connection between driver and vehicle, the "new car" smell found in every Nissan vehicle has been carefully developed and refined to ensure the perfect balance of scents inside the car. Peter Karl Eastland, Odour Evaluation Lead Engineer at Nissan Technical Centre Europe, reveals insights about his unique job from nose calibration to testing the odour of new premium materials used in the all-new Nissan Qashqai as part of the vehicle development process.
Peter Karl Eastland – the "Nose of Nissan"
Based at Nissan Technical Centre Europe, Peter Karl Eastland's job title is Odour Evaluation Lead Engineer. This unassuming job title doesn't reflect one of the key roles he plays in the development of Nissan's European range of vehicles, a role which is quite surprising.
As well as having a master's degree in Chemistry with Forensic Science from Leicester University, UK, Peter is blessed with an extremely acute sense of smell, a gift he realised he had at an early age.
Leading a panel of engineers and technicians, Peter is responsible for ensuring the so-called "new-car smell" is just right. Knowing one of the key emotional responses customers enjoy when taking delivery of their new Nissan vehicle is pride in their purchase which is triggered by the new-car smell, it's critical that the first impression is a pleasing one.
The most recent example of his work can be found on the all-new Nissan Qashqai, which went on sale in Europe in July. Particular attention has been paid to elevate the Qashqai's on-board ambience, so the fit and finish, materials and user-friendly technology already generate a positive emotional response for occupants on first – and repeated – acquaintance. But, the attention to getting every detail right is reflected in the important role Peter and his colleagues played in ensuring the life-on-board experience isn't compromised by any unappealing odours.
That new car smell isn't just a consequence of the manufacturing process. Peter and his colleagues devote months, sometimes years of work throughout the development phase of the new vehicle. Carefully analysing the use of all materials; such as seat fabric, adhesives, and polymers, the team ensures they don't combine to generate an unpleasant odour for the car's occupants. "We aim to provide the best sensory experience for the customer. While tastes and preferences evolve over time, the odour of the vehicle will also change with the addition of new materials. Therefore, it is part of our job to make sure that any material we source is always going to be perfect in terms of odour when all of the senses are harmonised," he said.
Liaising with his colleagues across the engineering and manufacturing functions, all materials are tested both subjectively and objectively, in a variety of conditions to replicate real-world conditions, keeping in mind that their chemical properties – such as odour – can change according to temperature, for example. Where a potential new material or chemical is found to negatively affect the overall cabin ambience, Peter and his colleagues will identify alternatives in order to ensure the sanctity of the new-car smell. "A key part of my role in assessing a material is to keep the customer at the centre of our focus. With any change or new design, odour is part of the wider evaluation on the effectiveness of that change," said Peter.
And Peter's role in Europe is not unique – he has counterparts with whom he liaises at Nissan's other technical centres in Atsugi, Japan and Farmington Hills, United States. The existence of a global Nissan standard for odour evaluation underlines the attention to detail Nissan commits in ensuring its global product range meet the highest quality standards.
How and when did Peter recognise his nose was keener than most? "I remember as a young kid playing games where we had to identify different food stuffs, like flavours of crisps, sweets or drinks by their smell alone. I was able to correctly identify the difference between the own-brand supermarket items and the leading brands' products, even when the flavour was meant to be the same. In fact, I remember I was quite particular about what which brands of food I preferred", Peter explains.
Having joined the Nissan Graduate Trainee Scheme in 2016, with an already keen interest in the automotive world, his exceptional olfactory talents meant that he was a natural candidate to assume the role of Odour Evaluation Lead Engineer, when his predecessor changed responsibilities. "Using the chemistry knowledge as the backbone in terms of material science, I was able to increase my understanding from an engineering point of view. My first graduate role was working with polymer materials, which is my favourite material to look at. Being a polymer engineer is also under my current responsibility, which is another part of my role that I enjoy," he explained.
He added: "As part of Material Design and Test, we investigate real-life usage of vehicles to understand how the materials behave under repeated, intensive usage. I enjoy this because it involves the forensic science learning and principles that I studied, which I can apply to understand what is happening to the materials."
The combination of his nose-based talents and his passion for forensic analysis of material behaviour in the real-world means that he is something of a detective, identifying where an issue lies and working with his colleagues to understand how it developed and then how to resolve it.
Outside of work, Peter is an enthusiastic cook, putting his natural taste and smell talents to work in the pursuit of culinary creativity. Peter also regularly plays snooker is his local league, competing at County level.
"For me, the job satisfaction comes from working with extremely smart people, who are specialists in their own areas. I would describe it as an osmosis of knowledge. I enjoy picking up key knowledge from all the engineers and technicians who work here as we collaborate on the finest of details. We make sure the forthcoming new Nissan generates that feeling of pride, satisfaction and pleasure each time our customers drive their vehicle," he explained.