What cars do people really want to buy? What is the mass market, city car of the future going to be like?
The last two decades of automotive development have seen such a large shift in terms of consumer expectations and product packaging – are we headed for an inevitable future?
No matter how much car enthusiasts rage against modern technology and autonomous driving, they are the inevitable future. Battery electric vehicles are also an inevitable future – at least until synthetic fuel manages to be produced cheaply enough and in large enough quantity and with carbon neutrality to allow for the survival of internal combustion engines.
But even if you ignore these two seismic changes to the way we utilize our cars and the way cars are propelled, there have already been a lot of changes in consumer trends to suggest that the cars we see today are going to be completely alien to a future generation of car buyers. The three-box sedan form is already seeing a hefty decline in take-up rates, with crossovers and SUVs slowly becoming the popular choice.
Couple this with the fact that a car’s options list and specification sheet is now a much bigger deciding factor when it comes to a purchase decision, and you can start to paint a picture of what the cars of the future are most likely to be. As much as we wax lyrical about the way car handles and feels, these are not really aspects that most car buyers rank highly when considering a car.
Let’s break down our predictions.
When it comes to cars of the future, there’s no real reason to maintain the traditional two-box or three-box design that we see with most cars today. Part of this design is done to accommodate the powertrain, and some of it is for aerodynamics. With electric motors and batteries, it is much easier to keep the powertrain out of the way and low down in the car, allowing for a much larger cabin. This also means manufacturers could effectively design their cars like minivans for the maximum possible interior space for the smallest possible external dimension.
Since features and functionality are really what attract people to cars (think items like Bluetooth, navigation, gesture control, smartphone connectivity, and even things like MBUX), there’s no doubt that the cars of the future will come with more features and functions than ever before. But more than this, there may even be a model where users or owners have to pay to unlock features on a subscription basis (already on trial with some manufacturers), and there may be a great degree of modularity to allow for easy updates and changes over a car’s lifespan.
As we mentioned earlier, you can absolutely expect that the majority of cars in the future are going to be electrically propelled – especially as countries move to ban the sales of cars with internal combustion engines. The great thing about electric motors is that as soulless as they may seem, they have very good low-end torque characteristics and can get you up to sensible city speeds easily even with extremely small electric motors. You would be surprised but even a 50 to 70 hp motor is more than enough to get around a city.
There have been a few concept cars over the years that show the interior of cars being able to reconfigure themselves so that the front and rear occupants face each other, providing an extremely large interior room for stretching legs and activities. This is achievable with flat floor architecture and autonomous driving, and for most people, this would be a great feature to have on a commute.
As ride-sharing and e-hailing pick up on popularity around the world – especially in urban centres – the idea of car ownership is also something that may slowly fade away. You may find that these vehicles are shared by multiple different owners, or that they are only leased out to consumers on a fixed-term basis before being upgraded and repackaged for the next owner. The entire idea of owning a car may very well come to an end if a car isn’t used for most of the time you own it.
Therein lies one of the biggest and most important concepts to grasp when you look at the cars of the future. There is a distinction between the cars that people want to buy, and the cars that will be worth driving and enjoying – and the latter is something that sports cars and well-engineered cars will maintain as an edge. Most car buyers nowadays only need a vehicle for their daily commute and the odd weekend or night time drive, which doesn’t exactly set the heart on fire in terms of excitement.
For that relatively narrow use case, the future of boxy, self-driving, electrically powered, home theatres on wheels sounds like the one that makes the most sense. For the rest of us, there are whatever classic cars remain, and probably whatever sports cars manage to survive the move away from traditional fossil fuels. They definitely won’t come cheap though.