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Affordable Luxury and Designer Fragrance: A Missed Opportunity in Automotive Air Care?

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Car air fresheners proved the most dynamic air care category in 2012, beating the economic downturn to post 8% value growth while the wider air care category grew by just 3.5%.

This strong performance was largely driven by the launch of Procter & Gamble’s Febreze Car Vent Clips in the US, the world’s largest air care market. Leveraging the Febreze brand name, the product achieved a whopping 15% share in its first year to take third position behind the specialist car accessories brands Little Trees (27%) and Auto Expressions (25%). The success of Febreze Car Vent Clips subsequently produced a turnaround in the wider US air care category, driving 2% value growth in 2012 after four years of consecutive declines. With the US economy on course for a steady recovery from 2013, it would appear that consumers are reverting to more indulgent lifestyles, thus opening up opportunities for further development in the car air fresheners category. Euromonitor International investigates.

Cutting Back on Big-Ticket Items but Splashing Out on Small Indulgences

While it appears that economic recovery has helped boost consumer spending, the surge in sales of car air fresheners in the US may also be down to consumers cutting back their spending on big-ticket items. According to the latest data released by RL Polk, a leading automotive research agency, the average age of all light vehicles on the road in the US hit a record high of 11.4 years in 2012, up from 11.2 in 2011 and 10.9 in 2010.

Consumers are thus holding on to their cars for longer for economic reasons, particularly since the recession. This trend is also encouraging consumers to seek accessories to brighten and freshen up their cars.

A Timely Development at the Premium End

That said, Febreze’s success in car air fresheners can also be attributed to Procter & Gamble’s efforts to understand consumers’ needs. Febreze Car Vent Clips not only eliminate odours rather than mask them, but also enable consumers to control the amount of scent released, thus rectifying the problems associated with rapidly-fading traditional products.

The design of the car vent clips also adds a premium aspect to car air fresheners compared with the traditional hanging format which may be distracting to drivers.

Collaboration with Regard to Built-In Luxury?

Primarily used to freshen cars, car air freshener product development is being solely driven by home care manufacturers, with little collaboration with car manufacturers to date. However, some luxury car makers are collaborating with fragrance fashion houses, as seen from the likes of designer Mini Coopers and the Fiat 500 by Gucci, to generate further consumer interest in the premium end. Perhaps there is an opportunity for home care manufacturers to join forces and enhance the need for car air fresheners from the beginning when a car is built via closer collaboration with car makers. The success of premium car air fresheners certainly suggests there could be a future for cars featuring integrated air care products, perhaps even offering luxury fragrances, with fragrance innovation remaining one of the core directions of air care development.

A trial collaboration between home care manufacturers and car makers with regard to premium scents could drive a future trend, with manufacturers of both perhaps set to benefit over the longer term when value-added features such as this filter down and become a standard fixture in every new car. Consumers in emerging markets are buying more new than second-hand cars due to the underdevelopment of the used car market. While built-in premium car air fresheners may add to the purchasing price of a new car, it may not take much effort to convince consumers in these markets to splash out in order to flaunt their new-found wealth. High levels of pollution could also encourage sales. Manufacturers which experiment in this direction may not have to wait for too long before enjoying a return on their investment as car air fresheners become increasingly essential in modern society.

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