By Ramkripa AnanthanAutomotive design is morphing as it goes into the future, with changes being driven mostly by ACES — autonomous, connected, electric, shared vehicles. Design is driven by customer needs and fuelled by technology. The heightened concern over climate change is accelerating this pace.
Automotive design and development cycles are long, and change takes time. The big impact of the pandemic has been on the psychology of both creators and consumers who are re-evaluating their values and prioritising health, safety and cleanliness. In the short term, we are seeing the focus on air purifiers in vehicles but going forth, there will be seismic change in design as the form and content of vehicles gets impacted by people whose lives have been disrupted by this ongoing event.
Autonomous technology will allow hybrid designs that blur the lines between a mobility solution and a living space — like the concept Renault Symbioz. In a future where resources will be scarce and our environment at risk, owning a car that lies idle for a long time will be a problem that designers will have to deal with by integrating multiple functions other than just mobility — it has already been suggested in various concept cars that they wi l l b e p ower g e n e r a t o r s , meeting spaces, part of your home as a living room, etc.Connectivity h a s a l r e a d y become a need that is driving buying decisions of consumers. In future, the in-car infotainment system will become a digital cockpit and the most important aspect of car design. UI/UX — user interface and user experience — design will have to become part of a car designer’s tool kit. Currently car designers focus on the shape of the exterior and interior of a vehicle. In future, they will have to either upskill to acquire UI/ UX design knowledge or work in close collaboration with such designers.
Electric vehicles are those that have zero/ less emissions than traditional, internal combustion engine vehicles. A broader view would be designs that reduce the impact on earth’s resources. This would include reusing materials, recycling plastic waste and, eventually, reducing vehicle purchase.
All of this, without compromising on the latent desire of the customer for status or speed or adventure. Green could be the new red. You can see concepts like the ZUV i.e. Zero Emission Utility Vehicle by Austrian design house EOOS, which focuses on a sustainable future. This is made locally by 3-D printing using plastic waste!There are already business models that encourage the concept of reducing household vehicle ownership. Yulu has created electric cycles, the app and the ecosystem, all supported by the internet of things, by which you use the e-bike for local travel or delivery without owning it.
An early mover in the shared mobility space was the Zoom car which started in 2013; this allows users to rent cars by t h e m o nt h , week, day or even hour and drive themselves. So, it is possible for a family to own only one car for city usage but rent a car for the weekend or for a vacation when it needs something more spacious or powerful.
Shared mobility took a hit during the pandemic but will be the way of the future. The EV startup Arrival has designed a vehicle for Uber which has improved visibility for urban city manoeuvring and better interior room for a shared space. The hybrid future could have designs that are purpose-built only for sharing or owning.
India’s score card is not good on any of these parameters. There are a lot of EV startups working on the PACES vehicle future — which is good news. However, we are behind the curve and will be playing a catch-up game.