The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous effect on the automotive sector globally. With production and logistics operations almost at a standstill and the slowdown in demand amidst economic uncertainty - the current timeline is a pivotal point for the future of the car in its entirety.
But amidst the challenges, COVID-19 is also proving something else the auto industry is excellent at - their unyielding ability to adapt to changing conditions.
It's not all bad though, while not as many cars might be driving out showroom doors - the slowdown has given carmakers a chance to step back and reevaluate other aspects of their business. We see an increase in digitalisation in the buying process, creative ownership programs, and some are even aiding the medical industry in fighting the pandemic.
Kia USA preparing medical use face shields for COVID-19 frontliners
This has also given designers and engineers more time in rethinking the execution of their products. In particular, how this pandemic might influence the interior design and equipment of future cars.
In an interview with Automotive News, Chief Design Officer of Daimler AG said, "The pandemic will change our perception of how we experience safety and luxury in the future,” Wagener says, predicting that the two will become much more intimately intertwined. “This can be a challenging but exciting time.”
Luxury and safety
Carmakers have always tried to strike a balance between the contrasting aspects of luxury and safety, however, in recent time, carmakers are exploring ways of making the interior of the car a zone where the occupants feel safe.
For certain markets, luxury and safety can mean good driver and occupant safety, but in countries like Mexico and Brazil, cars have to protect from robbery and kidnappings.
Now with the pandemic, the criteria for a safe interior must take into account both physical and mental health.
Felix Kilbertus, the head of exterior design for Rolls-Royce adds, besides being safe, the interior of a car needs to allow its customers to do more, like hold business meetings. This is where safety, security, and connectivity become one.
Clean air zone
Now more than ever, everyone wants to breathe clean air. Not just free from viruses and bacteria, but also harmful pollutants and odours.
Today we see an increase of the interior of cars becoming like a fortress of solitude or even a spa - with most high-end premium cars offering scented cabin fragrances, ambient lighting for relaxation, sublime sound systems, and even massage functions on seats.
Volvo CleanZone multi-filter system
But now with the added measure of health, carmakers are looking at ways of not just filtering the air but conditioning it.
Hence, interiors of the future will likely see more complex air management systems.
Examples of this are Volvo's air quality monitors and filter systems, Infiniti's plasma cluster ion generator which sterilizes pathogens, blocks out particulate matter in the air, or even Peugeot-Citroen's negative-ion generator which kills mould and bacteria, and dissolves harmful gases.
Tesla's HEPA filter system undergoing testing
There are others, such as Tesla's HEPA filtration system, or Rolls-Royce state of the art, activated charcoal purifying system.
But Mercedes-Benz is looking even further, such as filtering the air just outside the car As Wagener adds, “We are working toward the idea that the car could actually take bad things out of the air, almost clean the air. It’s an opportunity to address the sustainability issue that we have already been considering."
Privacy and invisibility cloak
A new word that will surely become more prevalent is privacy. Beyond keeping you safe, connecting you to the world, and cleaning the air you breathe, cars of the future will offer privacy to its occupants.
More than just sunshades and blinds, Rolls-Royce is working on ways to totally isolate the outside from its occupants, and provide recording studio levels of quiet.
Hence we may see new materials being used in sound deadening and insulation technology.
But not just for the inside, what if you wanted to disappear entirely - well Mercedes-Benz started working on "invisibility cloaks", using complex LED and camera systems to literally let a car mimic its surrounding, way back in 2012.
This, just in case if you prefer to hide from criminals, prying eyes, or even to keep your car safe when parked.
Felix Kilbertus, the head of exterior design for Rolls-Royce says that the company is already working on it. “It’s a car that could move so quietly, so discreetly, that it would go undetected from outside threat.”
While the technology may still be a few years off, these conceptual ideas will spear forward the direction of car design, and more widely, the car's relevance in daily human life.
2020 Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR - inspired by AVATAR
Once more showing a trait of the industry as a whole that is so intrinsically human-like at its core... the ability to adapt and evolve.