The Commoditization of the Car (Exterior)
By Aaron Snyder
Cars’ outward appearances will become much more homogenous in the future. Why is this and what will that do for branding?
If you happen to be in a city right now, you can order a rideshare that will pick you up wherever you are and take you pretty much wherever you want to go. And, compared to a traditional taxi service, it’s dirt-cheap. But that’s all that ridesharing really offers because, at this point, there’s barely enough demand to make ridesharing feasible. In the near future however, demand will likely increase dramatically as autonomous vehicles drive down the price of this service.
Though this topic was previously covered in our post, “Sharing Interests, Not Rides,” it’s an important place to start because as demand increases, you’ll suddenly be able to get a lot more out of your ride than simply traversing from A-to-B. You’ll be able to socialize with like-minded people, eat or drink restaurant-style, or catch a ride with your groceries and packages so that you and your orders arrive home together.
As a result, the way cars are branded is going to undergo a major change. Brands will come to represent the experience, rather than the car itself. As more and more niche brands and rideshare interiors are launched—and eventually take the spotlight away from the car exterior—the aggressively styled exteriors we’ve come to know and love are going to fade away.
And why will this be the case? For one very simple reason: each interior experience will become a modular part that rideshare companies can swap out as-needed to meet demand and support a hyper-segmentation of autonomous transit.
Why keep both a fleet of 1,000 latte-serving CaféCars alongside a separate fleet of 1,000 beer-servingCarBars when they hardly ever operate during the same hours? By swapping out the interior of a single car, you could serve everyone their coffee in the morning and their beer at night with the same fleet of 1,000 cars. You don’t need a degree in economics to know which is more cost effective. Half as many cars cost half as much to buy, insure, and maintain.
It just makes economic sense.
The net effect is that cars destined to be autonomous transit vehicles will, in effect, become mere shells that wrap around these kinds of modular interiors. Think about it: how much do you care what kind of car shows up when you call a Lyft or an Uber? Probably not a lot, and regardless, we’d wager you’re more likely to notice the color of the interior than the color of the exterior. As the interior of the ride offers more and more, riders are going to care less and less about the exterior. We will no longer “consume” the ride from the outside; we will instead experience it from the inside.
Essentially, the exterior of the car will become a shell. And, once branded, each Shell’s technology will cater to certain functional benefits.
A Shell’s ability to protect its users from harm will be a huge selling point for security-minded individuals. Names will draw on future technologies that might include Premonition braking systems or Insulome nano-fibers designed to absorb impacts in the event of a crash. Combining these components could result in a CrowsNest package that could cut your likelihood of injury due to a reckless driver by 90%. That way, you’ll know you’re choosing the lowest-risk ride possible.
Tomorrow’s autonomous shells may strongly resemble bullet trains or other types of elegant public transit that we currently have today. Car brands like Oyster will necessarily signal a sleek exterior—like the smooth lines of a bullet train—but with a luxurious, perhaps even complex, interior.
Shells that interface with their infrastructure could provide clear functional benefits, just like trains and other means of public transit. Where will Amtrak or other commuter trains stand in this mix? Specific Shell packages could offer the ability to interface with existing forms of long-distance travel. Traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles or traversing the East Coast? Make sure your Lounge Deck interior is fitted with a Shell featuring Amtrak’s Caboose Technology, allowing you to by-pass traffic by commuting on train tracks instead of the highway. Not only might the great American railway system offer an excellent way to loosen up gridlock for interstate travel, but also could provide access to the nation’s most incredible scenic routes that are currently inaccessible by car.
Now, this is not to say that car exteriors will become meaningless in the automotive landscape of the future. They will simply no longer be the main selling point because they will be sidelined by the various inter-changeable and highly specialized interiors soon to be offered. Although ingredient and exterior branding will continue to be critical factors, interior branding will offer a whole new dimension: it will holistically capture the ride experience and potentially become a defining feature of autonomous vehicles . Interiors will no longer be confined to type of leather, color, or technology. This new, apparent limitless space creates the opportunity for companies outside of the automotive industry to make their mark in this territory by launching—and branding—unique interior experiences.