Volvo Filters Out PM2.5 Pollution – Inside the Car

The rest of us can just suck on it.

Volvo dashboard showing air quality
Volvo dashboard showing air quality.

 Volvo North America

Abraham Lincoln once defined a hypocrite: "The man who murdered his parents, and then pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan." I thought of this when I received a pitch from Volvo titled "Breathe clean air with world-first air quality technology inside new Volvos." The publicist writes (my emphasis):

"One of the biggest health worries in urban areas around the world is the presence of PM 2.5 in the air. High levels of PM2.5 particulates can lead to higher rates of cardiovascular disease and other adverse health effects. While much pollution is man-made, climate change is now adding to the problem, evidenced by the fires burning up and down the western US that have caused some of the worst air quality issues in a generation."

The fundamental problem with this statement is that automobile exhaust, brake dust, tire abrasion, and road wear are directly responsible for putting much of this PM2.5 into the air. One study found that 39% of ambient PM2.5 concentrations in New York City were attributable to traffic sources. In cities that don't rely on fossil fuels for heating, like in Montreal, vehicle emissions are responsible for well over half of all PM2.5 emissions. As for climate change adding to the problem, 28.2% of American CO2 emissions come from transportation, making it the single largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which of course, cause climate change.

Another just-released study noted that "these atmospheric fine particulate matters (PM2.5) emitted from the exhausts of mobile source gasoline-fueled vehicles constitute substantial risks to human health through inhalation, and most importantly, affect urban air quality." And "notwithstanding the relatively small quantity and percentage of total elements in atmospheric PM2.5, heavy metals in PM2.5 can adequately cause serious impairment to human health due to their high toxicity and bioaccumulation." The study found that the PM2.5 is about 65% carbon, with the balance being in order, cadmium, aluminum, zinc, potassium, iron, and chromium.

Volvo display of PM2.5
Volvo display of PM2.5.  Volvo North America

The Volvo press release notes that "Globally, many urban areas suffer from PM 2.5 values that exceed recommended levels by the World Health Organization, underlining the need to minimize their impact." But hey, if you are inside a Volvo, you're just fine.

"Thanks to a synthetic fiber-based filter and ionization, up to 95 percent of all PM 2.5 particles are kept out of the cabin. This optimizes air quality inside the car, limiting the adverse health effects that are associated with air pollution and fine particulates. Cleaner air inside the car also helps to advance safe driving, as healthy and fresh air can help boost driver concentration."

The hypocrisy of this is just breathtaking; Volvo drivers get lovely fresh air as they pump particulates out of the tailpipe.

“'With our Advanced Air Cleaner technology, you can rest assured that the air you breathe inside your Volvo is cleaner and healthier,' said Anders Löfvendahl, senior technical expert on cabin air quality at Volvo Cars. 'We believe that clean air is good for you, both from a health and from a safety perspective, and will continue to push the envelope in this area.'"

There is no mention of the fact that all of us outside of the Volvo cars also believe that clean air is good for us and would prefer that Volvo did something about that. To their credit, Volvo joined with California in the fight against the current American administration's gutting of fuel economy standards.

But this is really a "Let them eat cake" moment; to go on about how Volvo delivers "clean good air" to its customers without even mentioning what they are delivering to everyone else around them is insensitive, unconscionable, hypocritical, and wrong.


Volvo acknowledges that cars contribute to pollution, but they have ambitious plans to clean them up, "aiming to reduce its lifecycle carbon footprint per car by 40 percent between 2018 and 2025. This is the first, tangible step towards Volvo Cars’ ambition of becoming a climate neutral company by 2040."

Volvo Cars’ 2040 ambitions go beyond addressing tailpipe emissions through all-out electrification, another area in which the company is at the forefront. It will also tackle carbon emissions in its manufacturing network, its wider operations, its supply chain and through recycling and reuse of materials.

The CEO of Volvo says "at Volvo Cars we will address what we control, which is both our operations and the tailpipe emissions of our cars." That will reduce emissions of CO2 and PM2.5. In the meantime, they cannot control what's in the air, and a Volvo representative told Treehugger that "it would be irresponsible not to try and protect our customers now." Point taken.