Out in the streets of today’s developed cities, the air is typically much cleaner than it was seventy to twenty years ago, despite many more people driving many more cars over much more distance. That’s a triumph of outdoor air quality science and engineering, worth celebrating, but there’s still too much dirt in the air, and it can grow much more concentrated inside a car…and that’s why IAQ (interior air quality) is a hot topic.
Interior air obviously comes from outside the car—from the lower layers accumulating the heavier pollutants. Researchers are now realizing the air inside our cars can be far worse—as much as fifteen times worse—than the outside air just a few meters away.
The focus on IAQ has gained traction in China because of heavy air pollution there—children are more sensitive to air quality while their lungs are developing. Polluted air harms children’s ability to learn at school and may damage their DNA.
So high-powered in-car air purifiers have been progressively installed in cars since the ’90s (IQ Air from a Swiss company for Daimler in the US, for example).
Car interiors create their own pollutants. Think about that new-car smell: it’s VOCs (volatile organic compounds) coming from plastic outgassing, especially at high car interior temperatures, such as when a car is parked in the sun.
In parallel, air quality research is popping up everywhere, because of environment issues and increased population awareness about the topics, which means that consumers will progressively consider IAQ management capabilities as differentiating factors between cars.
A recent study by Emissions Analytics, an independent UK global testing and data specialist for real-world emissions and fuel efficiency of passenger and commercial vehicles, shows that among 11 types of car there’s huge variation on the ability to purify incoming air, exposing those insides to ambient pollution with each breath. Nick Molden, its chief executive, told The Sunday Times: “Drivers can be exposed to high pollution levels while believing themselves to be protected by the air filtration and ventilation system”.
Numbers through the study are very much spread, from blocking 1% of external particulates (Toyota C-HR) to 90% (Mercedes E-class), including 43% (Jaguar E-Pace) 59% (VW Touran), 83% (Vauxhall Astra). Of course, one would need to compare development period and price of the various vehicles to get to a fair comparison.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) confirmed that the lack of regulation means car firms can use whatever specification of air filter they want, but said the industry is “working with policy makers” to decide if new rules are required. That’s what will probably drive next steps, letting consumers decide if air purification systems are something that will make them choose this car over that one.