Cabin Air Filters
Automakers clear the air
Americans with allergies welcome in-vehicle air filters
Josee Valcourt / The Detroit News
Very soon, that new car smell might just be clean, fresh air as automakers make more vehicles with air filtration or ionization systems.
Vehicles such as the Chrysler 300 and Ford Mustang are equipped with air filters that keep certain particles on the other side of powered windows. Toyota Motor Corp.’s new Camry sedans are rolling off factory lines with ionizers that release positive and negative ions into the cabin to attack invading allergens and pollutants.
Such features could help attract some of the estimated 40 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies. Mounting environmental concerns in general and a throng of consumers purchasing home purification systems also are driving the trend.
“Consumers desire in their vehicles what they can get at home or in the office,” said Larry Wu, a senior analyst who follows emerging technologies in the auto industry for J.D. Power and Associates.
“They want a better sound system to match their home theater or a GPS navigation system that’s easy to use like Mapquest.com. Those trends are pretty prevalent in what you see as new features being added to vehicles.”
Though cabin air filters are becoming more popular, they are not new, said Dave Lester, general manager of cabin air filtration for MicronAir, a brand of the Germany-based Freudenberg Group.
MicronAir installs its filters on vehicles worldwide to remove dust, exhaust fumes, airborne pollens, spores, soot and tire particles and bacteria from the air entering a vehicle’s cabin.
“U.S. numbers are increasing every year,” said Lester, adding that MicronAir projects a 40 percent jump in the U.S. market this year.
Features come at a cost
There are no U.S. regulations calling for improved air quality in vehicles, said Enesta Jones, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but “anything that’s contributing to air quality improvement is a good thing.”
But as with many comfort features offered by automakers, air filters and purification systems come with additional costs. A carbon filter similar to ones found in home air filtration systems is optional in certain Chrysler vehicles, including the 300.
The filter is available as part of a $590 optional protection package that includes side curtain air bags.
“It’s a feature that is appealing to buyers of more expensive vehicles,” said Chrysler spokesman Cole Quinell. “If you’re buying a $14,000 car, it’s not going to be high on your buying list.”
Cleaner air ranked high among Camry buyers surveyed during the research and development phase for the redesigned vehicle, said Keith Hathaway, passenger car product manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA.
“People have filters in their homes. We just took it a step further and into the car,” Hathaway said.
Toyota will offer ionizers standard on its 2007 Camry XLE and Camry hybrid.
The automaker is the first in the United States to have a factory-installed ionizer, called the Plasmacluster and manufactured by Sharp Electronics. According to Hathaway, the supplier claims the system is highly effective, eliminating 99 percent of viruses from the air.
“It will attack anything from germs, odors to mold, spores, any airborne contaminates,” he said. “It’s not too different from (ionizers) found in homes.”
Ford Motor Co. has used air filters in some vehicles for the past decade. The Taurus offered an air filter in 1996, said Nick Twork, a company spokesman. The Ford Edge, which comes out this fall, will have the option of dealer-installed filters.
“For some allergy sufferers and for folks who have respiratory problems, it’s a big issue,” he said.
Drivers’ demands increase
According to a Society of Automotive Engineers International’s report written by parts maker CalsonicKansei North America, indoor air quality is becoming an important issue for vehicles in the United States, Europe and Asia as roadways grow more congested and drivers spend more time in their vehicles.
CalsonicKansei tested the level of gas concentrations on Metro Detroit highways and found that levels inside tunnels and areas where walls are on either side are worst.
But the levels were not high enough to be considered harmful, the report said.
Yet as concerns surge about particulates and pollutants entering vehicles, some automakers are installing combination filters into cars and trucks.
“The reasons for this trend are the increasing health and wellness demands of car owners,” reads a separate SAE report written by Freudenberg Vliesstoffe KG, another division of Freudenberg Group.
Wu of J.D. Power said more automakers could begin adding ionizers. But for the moment, it remains more of a creature comfort rather than a must-have.
“It’s sort of nice to have but it’s not as critical as air bags,” he said.
According to air filter-maker MicronAir’s most recent study conducted by the Dohring Co. in 2004 that includes responses from 1,000 respondents, more than 91 percent said they’d like to see cabin air filters offered as a standard feature in cars and trucks, 83 percent said they preferred that their next vehicle come equipped with cabin air filters and 85 percent said they were concerned with health effects of gases and vapors while driving.
Almost half of the respondents were concerned about pollens, allergens, germs, dust particles, odors and smog.