Cars get ready to fight superbugs

Future models could help stop the spread of colds and flu with ultraviolet light technology

04 April 2019 - 18:28
By Motor News Reporter
Diagram shows how a car’s ventilation system can be used to kill pathogens.
Image: Supplied Diagram shows how a car’s ventilation system can be used to kill pathogens.

The car of the future could help win the battle against superbugs, according to Jaguar Land Rover.

Future models could help stop the spread of colds and flu thanks to innovative ultraviolet light technology (UV-C) borrowed from the medical industry, where it has been used for more than 70 years.

By integrating UV-C, Jaguar Land Rover says it could help stop bacteria and harmful viruses, known as pathogens, from surviving in the cabin. UV-C is widely used for disinfecting water, filtering air and sterilising surfaces by using  wavelengths of light.

Exposing pathogens to UV-C in the air-conditioning system breaks down the molecular structure of the DNA, neutralising them. Clean air is then released into the cabin. The technology could even help in the fight against drug-resistant superbugs. 

Jaguar Land Rover is exploring UV-C technology as part of its vision to create a tranquil sanctuary inside its luxury vehicles.

Dr Steve Iley, Jaguar Land Rover chief medical officer, said: “The average motorist spends as much as 300 hours per year behind the wheel. There is a clear opportunity to better utilise cars for administering preventative healthcare.

“Implementation of individual well-being measures as part of our ‘tranquil sanctuary’ research promises to not only improve quality of life for our customers, but in this case, offers clear advantages in reducing pathogen spread – protecting the overall population from the threat of disease, particularly as we move towards shared mobility solutions.”

Jaguar Land Rover is already actively seeking to neutralise pathogens in its latest-generation heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, available across the range, including in the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace and Range Rover Sport.

The current four-zone climate-control and cabin-air ionisation system works by using high voltage to create trillions of nano-sized negatively charged particles (ions) coated in water molecules. These ions deactivate pathogens, forming larger particles that are removed from the air as they are brought back into the filter. As well as combating pathogens, the ions also act upon odour molecules and allergens in a similar way.

Iley said: “In the colder months infections are spread more easily. It’s reassuring to know that in your car, at least, you can be confident that harmful pathogens are being neutralised.”

Recent medical trials suggest the use of UV-C could be even more effective as it has been shown to cut the transmission of four major superbugs by up to 30%.

Immunology expert Dr Hellmut Münch, CEO if Medical Enzyme Research Association, said: “The rise of superbugs and allergens is one of the largest threats we face as a species today. Investment in immunology is vital in ensuring that our immune systems stay ahead of the race against microorganisms, which are evolving far quicker than traditional pharmaceuticals can keep pace with.”

Geely buys half of Smart

China’s Geely has bought a 50% stake in Daimler’s Smart brand.
Image: Reuters China’s Geely has bought a 50% stake in Daimler’s Smart brand.

China’s Geely has bought a 50% stake in French-German city-car company Smart, creating a 50:50 joint venture with Smart’s parent, Daimler.

Daimler had set a deadline of the end of 2019 to decide the fate of the Smart city car brand, which has lost money every year since 1998 when its founder, Swatch watch founder Nicolas Hayek, parted ways with Daimler.

Geely’s founder, Li Shufu, owns 9.7% of Daimler after paying $9bn for his stake in 2019. While there is still no official word on the cost of the transaction, the Chinese partner has announced that Smart will move ahead and become a pure BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) company following in the tracks Daimler had already set on Smart with EQ models.

Production of the Smart Fortwo will continue in Hambach, France and the Forfour at Slovenia’s Nova Mesto until the current generation of cars cease production in about 2022.

The new models will be designed by Mercedes-Benz but engineered by Geely, which already owns Volvo, the London Electric Vehicle Company, flying carmaker Terrafugia, Lotus and Proton.

“We fully respect the value of Smart. This brand has a unique appeal and strong commercial value,” Shufu said.

“For more than 2.2-million customers, Smart represents a pioneer in urban mobility,” said head of Daimler Dieter Zetsche. “Based on this success story, we look forward to further enhancing the brand with Geely Holding, a strong partner in the electric vehicle segment”.

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Hyundai and Kia put out fires

The top US automotive safety regulator said on Monday it will open an investigation into 3-million Hyundai and Kia vehicles, after reviewing reports of more than 3,000 fires that injured more than 100 people.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the investigation is in response to a petition for a probe filed in June by the Centre for Auto Safety.

The investigation covers the 2011-2014 Kia Optima and Sorento and the 2010-2015 Kia Soul, along with the 2011-2014 Hyundai Sonata and Santa Fe.

The probe rekindles safety concern about vehicles of the South Korean duo, which have been investigated by the US regulator and prosecutors over engine-related recalls.

Hyundai and Kia together have recalled more than 2.3-million vehicles since 2015 to address various engine fire risks.

Hyundai said it was co-operating and has been in “frequent, open and transparent dialogue regarding noncollision engine fires”.

Kia said it will continue to work with NHTSA and “openly share information and data with NHTSA on all matters pertaining to vehicle safety”.

In November 2018, federal prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into Hyundai and Kia to determine if vehicle recalls linked to engine defects were conducted properly.

In January, the carmakers agreed to offer software upgrades for 3.7-million vehicles not being recalled.

Kia Motors SA says the recall is not applicable to cars sold here and is limited to the US, but would act immediately should there be any developments that required it to take action.

Hyundai SA has not yet responded to calls for comment.