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The Covid-19 pandemic is changing how people live and move around the world. Auto Futures asks: how will the coronavirus change the future design of cars and mobility?

Car designers and visionaries who influence the future of mobility including Klaus Bischoff, Dave Marek, Samuel Chuffart, Frank Rinderknecht, Stewart Reed and Jay V. Sanders discuss car, transportation and mobility design innovations post-Covid-19.

The ArtCenter College of Design, based in Pasadena, California, is the nurturing ground for a large percentage of car designers at major automakers around the globe with a staff of working industry pros who inspire generations of car designers to come. ArtCenter influencers see some new trends on the horizon.

“I think that the customer experience and value will evolve around health and wellness and will embrace how to keep customers safe,” says Dave Marek, ACURA Executive Creative Director, Honda R&D who teaches at ArtCenter, “For me, the biggest change was that we were headed toward an experience of sharing and the death of the individual vehicle. Now, that I’m home by myself, I may realize that I want an individual experience from my car.”

Marek adds: “I might buy a vehicle to go off-road, to go out in the mountains someplace where I will have the freedom to drive where I know I will be safe.”

Marek notes that automakers, such as Honda, usually have plans for different scenarios such as elections or world events however the pandemic is a new and unexpected situation.

“This has been a new question on whether the pandemic is just a blip or is it going to end or continue,” says Marek, who notes that a quick fix might be a plexiglass screen for Uber and Lyft drivers. In the future, autonomous cars don’t have drivers therefore there would be no need to worry about getting infected by a driver.

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Changeable Interiors?

The pandemic may also change the definition of car ownership through luxury, security and safety.

“I think the main thing is that there will be a different approach to sharing and defining what individual ownership will mean. There will be a new sense of security, health and wellness and luxury,” says Stewart Reed, Chair, Transportation Design, ArtCenter.

He also predicts that just as many people often change their wardrobe that the interior designs of vehicles will have changeable interiors.

“Jay Sanders and I were talking about the fact that there are new antimicrobial materials with nanotechnology that nothing can survive on. That could be adapted to car interiors,” adds Reed.

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For autonomous cars, there might be something like a protective bubble for people such as seen in the Batmobile or the Firebird III, Reed imagines.

He suggests, due to the pandemic and civil unrest, something that may occur is the driver’s need for extreme security such as the bulletproof glass in the Tesla Cybertruck.

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In areas where Covid-19 has hit severely, where it has put a dent in Uber rides, people will cherish their personal cars. Cars are safe.

Jay V. Sanders, executive director, Undergraduate Transportation Design, ArtCenter, imagines public transportation will find new ways to disinfect. Many public transport companies are doing deep-cleanings. He suggests that the system that is used on the Ford Interceptor, which heats the inside of the vehicle to 133 degrees Fahrenheit (56 Celsius), could be adapted to other vehicles.

He hopes that, as transportation evolves, there will not be a big gap between the haves and the have-nots – that all people will have a means of safe transportation.

Sanders notes that cars have become an extension of people’s lives, including his own.

“Since the quarantine, I have not ridden in a car with anyone except for the people I have been quarantined with. I have been taking meetings in my car because it gives me space where I can work. I expect when I go back to work, I will continue to do so,” says Sanders, “There will also be other people who have adapted to using their car as an office and will continue to do so.”

In a historical perspective, difficult times bring out new ideas and change. Sanders looks to the future and encourages his ArtCenter students to be optimistic and create designs that will overcome the challenges of these extraordinary times.

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Icona Design Group VP and Global Design Director, Samuel Chuffart, sees different design trends in different parts of the world as well as the advent of bringing robots into healthcare and concierge services.

“We’re still in the crisis phase; trying to figure out what’s going to happen. There has not been a lot of changes in requests from automakers. However, we’ve been thinking that putting a UV light in the trunk would disinfect packages in a few minutes,” says Chuffart.

“We see, in areas where Covid-19 has hit severely, where it has put a dent in Uber rides, people will cherish their personal cars. Cars are safe,” notes Chuffart.

For example, in Paris, one of the things that people who have been in quarantine want as soon as they can is a new car because it is a personal space. In China, there has been a trend for people concerned about their health. At first, the trend was having increased air filtration because of air pollution. Post-pandemic the air filtration systems will filter for viruses.

Icona is also involved in autonomous delivery and robotic design. Icona designed the JD Autonomous Logistic Vehicle for package delivery for JD.com and Meituan Space-Pod a robot designed for take-out food delivery. In the coming weeks, Icona will be testing a robot in a hospital in Italy. The robot will be used for sanitation using UV-C light, spraying disinfectant as well as delivering supplies or other things throughout the hospital.

“We have also had requests from a Dubai Towers to use the robot as an AI assistant,” says Chuffart.

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A Boost for Sustainability

Rinspeed offers a range of innovations including the pod modular electric vehicles the SNAP series.

“I do not think that car design as such is directly affected by the coronavirus. I see different new twists that will affect design,” says Frank M. Rinderknecht, CEO of Rinspeed, who sees the coronavirus as a powerful catalyst for digitalization and changes in the automotive space.

In the autonomous arena, due to financial restraints, the OEMs are not focusing on AD (Autonomous Driving) anymore. Rinderknecht expects a shift to the pure IT companies, such as Waymo, to be accelerated with the OEMs’ position weakened in the long run. Electrification and sustainability will get another boost.

In the mobility space, Rinderknecht thinks that car-sharing will take a back seat to an unexpected gain in supply chain logistics such as parcel deliveries.

Keeping an Eye on Interior Functionality

Klaus Bischoff, Executive Director of Volkswagen Design, looks at the global pandemic fuelling a renaissance of cars as private comfort zones and also driving autonomous style.

“The quality of having your own private zone that you can move in will see a renaissance. Ownership gets a new meaning. Air filtration, disinfection with UV light or surfaces that clean themselves or surfaces that are easy to clean will, of course, be investigated,” says Bischoff.

He also notes that air filtration (especially filtering any bacteria or viruses out of the air) will be an industrial topic of the future.

Volkswagen Brand, Head Of Design, Klaus Bischoff Explains The Id. Vizzion.

Bischoff says the Chinese market indicates that private ownership is especially high in big cities and seems to be a trend. The demand for private space and travelling in comfort is at a new high.

He continues to lead Volkswagen in autonomy and innovation. “Volkswagen has always had a strong eye on interior functionality and quality. With our showcar, ID.VIZZION, we have shown an example of fully autonomous limousine that allows travelling in style and comfort. Our aim is to carry on offering fascinating mobility from every brand of the group,” he concludes.

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