Air quality has been at the center of many discussions around climate change lately, especially as wildfires have ravaged certain parts of North America over the summer. Although some of Tesla’s vehicles are equipped with a Bioweapon Defense Mode that circulates air through a HEPA filter, most cars from other automakers do not have any air filtration equipment — a feature that some say should be in every car on the market.
|A Tesla Model S. Image by Casey Murphy | EVANNEX.|
Most of Tesla’s vehicles have better built-in air filtration than those of other automakers, as Automotive News reports. The publication estimates that the average person will spend around five years of their life within vehicles, though automobiles aren’t typically the places with the cleanest air. Still, products like the HEPA filter from Tesla have been copied by at least one automaker, and you can also find aftermarket products that will perform similar filtration.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Richard Corsi, UC Davis dean of the college of engineering, and his friend Jim Rosenthal together designed what’s called the “Corsi-Rosenthal box,” which is effectively a small air filter and fan device that can be attached to a vehicle’s cigarette lighter. Corsi says that the invention came from the auto industry’s lack of solutions for cabin air filtration.
“We can do a lot to improve indoor air quality in cars,” Corsi said. “What’s fascinating is that wildfire smoke seems to have caused a more extreme response than COVID. It suddenly made people realize we’ve got to do something about this.”
Even without the presence of harmful wildfire smoke, car cabins include a number of volatile and near-volatile chemicals that are vented out from plastics and flame retardants within the vehicle. Additionally, damaging particulate matter from things like car tires and other carcinogenic emissions are common when driving on the road.
Pollution and wildfire smoke have the potential to be just as damaging as some of these chemicals, all begging the question: why aren’t car filtration systems better?
“Bioweapon Defense Mode is not a marketing statement, it is real,” Tesla said upon unveiling the HEPA filtration system in 2016. “You can literally survive a military grade bio attack by sitting in your car.”
Tesla’s Bioweapon Defense Mode and the related HEPA filters are now standard in the automaker’s Model S, Model X and Model Y, though the filter is considered too large to fit into the Model 3. Few other automakers have followed in Tesla’s filtering footsteps as of yet, with the exception of Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Still, these companies basically offer cleaner air as a pricey add-on.
In 2021, Mercedes debuted the EQS electric vehicle with a $450 upgrade offering a three-layered “energizing air control system.” While driving through New Jersey in June amidst a brutal 350-point air quality index outside, due to Canadian wildfires, one Mercedes EQE SUV saw the in-cabin air quality rating handling the outside air well with just 23 points on the index.
“There was a clear consumer demand” for air filtration systems, according to Mercedes head of air quality and thermal comfort Christopher Gödde. “So we are bringing air quality, from a health perspective, to the next level.”
BMW also added air filtration features to its premium vehicles, though economy-level offerings don’t currently have as strong of systems for filtering air. The automaker’s low-end cars have air-treatment systems, though they tend to become less effective over time. Comparatively, BMW’s high-end cars have filtering that’s 16 times as effective, and they’re particularly popular in well-polluted areas.
“The trigger for the development was mostly highly polluted, industrial areas like Indonesia and Beijing,” BMW air quality head Andreas Wehrmeier said. “Though there was one guy who was asking for the nanofilter on his historic BMW.”
All in all, the industry seems pretty far behind Tesla on air filtration. While a few brands are starting to add these features as upgrade perks, drivers can also purchase aftermarket accessories to level-up their in-car air quality. These include a $130 Luftrum filter that can be found on Amazon and cleans an SUV’s interior in less than six minutes, according to the company. Still, automakers should probably just start making these kinds of systems standard in their cars, like Tesla.
“We know these things work and they work well,” Corsi added. “It’s not rocket science.”
Originally published on EVANNEX.
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