Virus-proofing systems could become the new popular accessory in vehicles. Contemplating the post-pandemic market, automakers are investigating ways to win customers by disinfecting their cars and trucks.
Ideas under consideration include devices that could blast car interiors with ultraviolet light, using foggers to spray disinfectants, upgraded air filtration systems and antimicrobial materials.
A third of vehicle shoppers recently told Cox Automotive they are more likely to consider air quality features for their next vehicle than before COVID-19.
“Safety is definitely top of mind for car shoppers,” said Vanesa Ton, Cox senior industry intelligence manager. “Not only are they expecting sanitization and social distancing protocols in place at the dealerships, they also want features in their cars to protect them, such as air quality/purifier options.”
In a sweeping five-country survey, 80% of respondents in the United States, China, Japan, Germany and Italy told consultant IHS Markit they’d be willing to pay for systems to disinfect their vehicles.
“There’s customer sentiment to implement these features,” IHS supplier technology expert David Trippany said. “People want their vehicles to sterilize themselves.”
A Michigan tech company has begun making UV lights to sterilize the inside of ambulances, police cars and other emergency vehicles. John Major, director of marketing for GHSP, said UV light can’t be used when people are in the vehicle, but its sterilizing effect is cumulative, meaning “you don’t have to kill 100% at once. Short bursts every time the vehicle is empty work.”
Motion sensors and thermometers can determine when the vehicle is empty and ready for irradiation. The lights can be integrated into headliners or existing lighting systems, he said. Irradiating air in the climate control system’s ducts is another possibility.
Cleaner air is high on motorists’ interests.
“Recent events have directed us to investigate additional technologies for improving cabin air for our heating and air conditioning systems,” a Fiat Chrysler spokesperson said.
Fogging systems that spray hydrogen peroxide or another disinfectant into the cabin air are a candidate, said Todd Fletemier, technology vice president of interior supplier Faurecia. Like UV light, this would require occupant detection for safety, he said.
Technology company Magna International is evaluating an ozone-generating system for cars based on one it used to disinfect personal protective equipment.
“It’s still too early to say how we’d go about implementing a sanitizing method for a vehicle interior,” said Scott Mitchell, Magna’s global director of new technology and innovation. “We have lots of options on the table that are under review.”
Lear Corp., a company that manufactures automotive seating, makes antimicrobial fabrics that resist viruses, bacteria, mold and fungus. “We are seeing increased interest from our customers on surface materials that repel microorganisms,” chief technology officer John Absmeier said.
Meanwhile, car companies are working on ways to make their dealerships safer. General Motors has created a program for dealers to follow in cleaning their facilities and vehicles.
“We know that our customers’ expectations have changed and that more will need to be done to meet those expectations,” said Barry Engle, president of GM North America. “Our engineering, service and sales teams have worked closely with our dealer network to develop a program that follows best practices regarding the delivery of new, used or serviced vehicles.”