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Ford Sniffs Out China Sales by Eliminating New-Car Smells

While U.S. car buyers savor that "new-car smell," Chinese buyers want a car that smells like, well, nothing. Then again, in a country with such famously thick air pollution, it might very well seem a luxury to simply smell nothing.

To give Chinese buyers what they want, Ford employs 18 so-called "golden noses" at its research unit near Nanjing, China, to sniff out anything that might put shoppers off, according to a report by Reuters.

"In North America, people want a new-car smell and will even buy a 'new-car' spray to make older cars feel new and fresh. In China, it's the opposite," Andy Pan, supervisor for material Used Engine ering at the Ford facility, told Reuters.

How much so? J.D. Power and Associates' 2016 China Initial Quality Study of owner-reported problems with their new cars found the most complaints about interior smells, beating out road noise, fuel mileage, wind noise and power loss when air conditioning is on in the top five. And the Chinese might be onto something: A 2012 study by the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Ecology Center warned that appealing as it is, the cocktail of smells in a new car might not be good for you.

Ford's sensitive smellers conduct 300 tests a year, rating car materials from "not perceptible" to "extremely disturbing," rejecting some and sending them back to suppliers. You can see the noses at work in the video here. The company also takes special odor-reducing measures in China, such as storing seats and other interior parts in ventilated containers to let volatile compounds escape before being installed.

Ford's testers must keep their noses clean to keep their job. After proving themselves in blind smell tests to become a "golden nose," they must lead a simple life.

"We have to have very healthy habits; we can't smoke, we can't drink," Amy Han, 33, told Reuters.

She also said she avoids spicy food and doesn't wear nail polish, strong perfume — or even a leather jacket.

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