Since their inception, car interiors have been cluttered with pedals, knobs, and forward-facing seats. With little legroom and lots of passengers, backseats can be especially cramped. The rise of autonomous vehicles, though, can fundamentally transform these cabins into ideal places to work, rest, or engage in activities previously thought unimaginable. Although once considered solely a mode of transportation, vehicles may soon offer revamped spaces, limitless interior options, and radical branding and co-branding opportunities.
In 2014, the U.S Census Bureau reported that the average commute was 26 minutes long. Employees who work five days a week and fifty weeks a year would spend a collective 1.8 trillion minutes, 29.6 billion hours, 1.2 billion days, or 3.4 million years going to and from work. But that time is not spent working, checking emails, making important calls to clients, reading, or relaxing. Instead, employees spent those minutes stuck in their vehicles, with their eyes on the road, their hands on their steering wheel, and their minds focused on navigating the streets in front of them.
The rise of autonomous vehicles could revolutionize that commute, and major automotive companies are already offering their own visions for the near future and its reimagined interiors. These potential-to-be-branded modes are distinctly different from the normal regular and sport modes of today’s drive.
Volvo’s Concept 26 (named for the average commute time) envisions an autonomous vehicle with three different modes: Drive, Relax (in which the driver’s seat completely reclines, the steering wheel retracts, and the screen rotates in front of the windshield), and Create (in which the driver’s seat slides back, allowing a small desk-like tray to pop out from the door).
Mercedes-Benz, meanwhile, pictures a premium “luxury lounge” with walnut wood panels, and four rotating white leather lounge-chairs. These descriptions, which could easily apply to a modern apartment or premium suite, introduce a new type of rhetoric and, subsequently, a new type of brand.
With these designs in mind, will the interiors of cars start to reflect those of airplanes or hotels? Just as first –class cabins on airplanes market complimentary hot meals, priority boarding, and extra legroom, “first-class” automotive interiors could offer hot meals or snacks, priority pick-up and drop-off, and more legroom than an “economy” counterpart.
The potential for change in auto interiors may even expand to include industries previously unrelated to automotive or transportation. Specific profession-based interior offerings would restrict the roles of automotive companies and involve other industries: pairings that Lexicon has envisioned and named.
A Quill class, for example, could offer more desk-space and touchscreens for the busy business professional. This word harkens back to the academics of old. Sophisticated and timeless, “Quill” also implies that the ride would be so smooth that the writer would not have to worry about spilling their ink. Different industries, like banking or tech, could partner with the carmaker in order to ensure that this mobile office space has WiFi, electrical outlets, good acoustics for conference calls, and other company-specific amenities.
The Joule fleet could be equipped with a high-tech entertainment system that is perfect for partygoers. The high-energy name “Joule,” a scientific unit of measurement, would convey the vibrant atmosphere of these interiors, and entertainment venues and bars may sponsor specific cars, each of which provides an idiosyncratic catered experience.
Pond interiors would be known for their focus on privacy for those who desire a quiet commute and a potential spa-like experience. The serenity of a pond could be the inspiration for aromatherapy, massage chairs, soft lighting, and a choice of teas or infused waters that are available for passengers.
To meet the evolving demand, auto companies would have to focus not on the speed and power of the past but on the in-car experience of the future. As a result, car interiors may become a product of co-branding opportunities. Sleep-deprived start-up founders, like the minds behind Casper, might find their way into BMW autonomous cars featuring their mattresses, and coffee addicts may order, via touchscreen, the latest Starbucks creation: the Venti Volvo. A favorite breakfast spot could turn into a transportation system, in which an individual steps inside their favorite café and steps out, pastry in hand, at their destination.
Although car interiors were once cluttered and cramped, the rise of autonomous cars could change those connotations. New interior spaces would require names and, possibly, co-branding opportunities, that reflect this transformation. With the infinite possibilities and combinations possible, companies should understand that the only way to get ahead in the automotive industry is to take the backseat.
Lexicon has brainstormed some possible themes for the interiors of autonomous cars. Are there others that you would like to see? Leave them in the comments below!
—Eva Epker, Summer Intern