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The ultimate challenge: create vehicles that enable creativity

Megan Lampinen talks to design consultancy IDEO about the need to rethink vehicle design for the car of the future

Ride-sharing and autonomous drive technology are reshaping automotive business models, but they also promise to reshape the vehicles themselves. Design and innovation firm IDEO is helping various mobility companies work out their visions for the vehicle of the future.

“We are moving from an industry that has planning cycles of six years to an ecosystem of service providers that will have to cater to changing needs and behaviours on a daily basis,” predicts Luis Cilimingras, Managing Director of IDEO London. Human-centric design will prove pivotal to the transition.

Customer-centric

“We bring human-centred design to our projects to help create organisational cultures,” Cilimingras told Megatrends. “It is important for us to influence the cultures with which we work. This is especially true in the car industry, which has a very technologically-focused culture. We help them innovate and develop products and services that cater to the real needs and desires of people.”

“We bring human-centred design to our projects. This is especially true in the car industry, which has a very technologically-focused culture”

Maintaining a close relationship with customers will be essential for any mobility providers in the future, and traditional OEMs may find themselves in jeopardy. “The car industry has been alienating itself from customers for a long time. The brands sell the car and then gives away the customer to aftersales or finance. After the sale they are not worried about their customer anymore,” Cilimingras observed. This lack of customer-centricity will bite back if traditional manufacturers do not start changing their approach.

“The OEMs need to start working with people that have customers – and customer satisfaction – at the core of their business model every day. This is what Uber does, for example. Uber leads every day on the happiness of its customers, and that is the big difference,” he added. “I definitely see the power shifting and it will be shifting to the service providers and the people that are going to be much closer to what the needs of the users are on a real-time basis.

Power shift

IDEO’s automotive customers include the likes of Lexus, Volkswagen, Bosch, Ford and Michelin as well as service providers, maintenance partners, bike sharing companies and others. “I am reticent to think that much of that innovation is going to come from the OEMs, simply because their business model is not very aligned with this,” suggested Cilimingras. “Cars have traditionally been designed for single use, to influence the single buyer or family. Who is interested in moving away from having one owner per car? I think much of that disruption will come from service providers.”

He envisions a future in which fleet operators will have a stronger role in configuring vehicles or buying basic versions and then having them upfitted with another level of kit. He points to the UK minicab company Addison Lee as an example. The operator recently invested £17m (US$21m) in 550 new Ford Galaxy models as it renewed a large chunk of its taxi fleet. The problem, as Cilimingras sees it, is that these vehicles were not designed for taxi use.

“Many design elements need to be considered and developed much faster to evolve into a shared scenario. There are interesting features like using the space under the seat as personal storage, which is always somewhat awkward when getting into a taxi or in an Uber Pool”

“Every time I go into an Addison Lee I try to sit in the front because the back seats are so uncomfortable. They have just not been designed for that use,” he observed. “When Addison Lee realises that its future depends on the comfort of the passengers, and the kind of activities that customers want to be able to do during their drive, they will start having an opinion.”

At some point, he believes Ford or other brands will begin giving companies like Addison Lee space to co-design cars with them. This sort of close collaboration is already starting to emerge from some corners, as seen with General Motors’ US$500m investment in ride-share provider Lyft last year. GM also gained a seat on Lyft’s board of directors.

“We are seeing many of these operators starting to work together. Things are still in the early stages now but that will happen more moving forward. We will also see new mobility specialist start-ups that will provide interesting products,” he forecast.

What’s inside

At the foundation of IDEO’s work is the principle that technology moves very fast but the needs of people move very slowly. “We try to understand these slower-changing needs and to anchor technological advances into answering them,” Cilimingras explained. The result can be seen in various concept vehicles on display at events like the Geneva Motor Show and Barcelona Mobile World Congress. “These concepts look futuristic but I don’t think we will have to wait many years to see them happen,” he said. “I’ve never seen as much change as what has been happening in the last 18 months.” Many industry participants have commented on the pace at which the industry is evolving, and Cilimingras describes it as “exponential.”

“Cars have traditionally been designed for single use, to influence the single buyer or family. Who is interested in moving away from having one owner per car? I think much of that disruption will come from service providers”

Future mobility will largely be shared mobility, in Cilimingras’ view, with a gradual erosion of personal ownership. “Many design elements will need to be considered and developed much faster if we are to evolve into more of a shared scenario,” he pointed out. Private storage options in a vehicle, for example, will need to be developed for each passenger, introducing new design challenges. “There are interesting little features like using the space under the seat as personal storage, which is always somewhat awkward when you get into a taxi or an Uber Pool. Where do I put my bag? There are many small things like this. You need to think, if we were to design something to be shared, what would be the elements that would be so important here.”

Shared mobility also means flexibility in selecting different vehicle models for different requirements. “In the longer term, if we are booking vehicles in real time, we would be booking the car that we want for the mode that we need. If I want to have a nap on my way to the airport, or if I want to make a very important conference call, I will require a super silent place where I can sit down and work or sleep,” he pointed out. A vehicle for a family holiday will have a very different interior, perhaps child seats and video screens, for instance.

This new mobility approach could completely redefine the traditional commute. “Commuting will become part of our lives and not just this weird twilight zone transition between my work life and my home life,” he forecast.

Fostering creative productivity

As automation takes away many of the repetitive tasks not only in driving but in wider day-to-day activities, people will begin demanding different functionality from their vehicles. “If we go another step into the future, when automation spreads, we will be evaluated on our creative productivity. This is one area where automation cannot take over,” he said. The idea is that vehicles will somehow need to foster creative productivity while transporting individuals. “That is one area that will receive considerable attention in the next ten years. If we are required to become more creative beings, if we are going to be evaluated and measured on how much creativity we are able to produce, how is our mobility answering to that?” Cilimingras asks. “It is an open question and a big provocation for the industry. We need to create vehicles that are enablers of creativity. How do we do that?”


This article appeared in the Q2 2017 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue