After air-conditioned and slow-massage front seats, it was hard to imagine what possible new take on ‘luxury’ car manufacturers would dream up next.
Well, a couple of weeks ago in Japan Infiniti (Nissan’s premium brand) gave me a glimpse of its latest ‘well being’ innovation.
Infiniti engineers say they have gone to great lengths with the new M-series saloon (which is due in the UK next year) to improve ‘life on board’. The main technology involved will be a new climate control system, which combines ‘breezy air’ with an aroma diffuser. With typical Japanese thoroughness, Infiniti has not just bunged any old air-freshener into the air-con, but has developed two special aromas, ‘Leaf scent’ and ‘Forest air’.
The ‘Breezy Air’ technique is quite simple. Instead of the climate control blowing air out of the vents at a constant rate, it simulates a natural breeze by going through a cycle of blowing softly and strongly.
That in itself is quite an advance on standard-issue climate control. However, the addition of the aromas takes the concept to an extraordinary new height. These aromas are not only uncannily lifelike but they have been developed because they do actually help de-stress the driver.
In fact Infiniti showed us the results of brain scans showing how the aromas and the ‘breezy’ air-con affected brain activity, altering the driver’s consciousness and de-stressing the mind. One engineer argued that humans had lived in the forest for five million years, and have only recently moved into an ‘artificial environment’.
Infiniti engineers actually demonstrated the system with a picture of a forest on the sat-nav screen and a surround-sound of birds tweeting. That was a step too far. As utterly relaxing as it was, the chances of the driver drifting off into a blissful trance would be a bit too high.
Still, the effectiveness of the system made me ponder the irony of using technology to make a man-made environment more like nature. Maybe BMW will be forced to follow Infiniti’s lead and make the cabin of the next-generation 3-series more like an afternoon in the Austrian Alps.