Looking ahead to the future of automotive design

What’s the next frontier for automotive design? Paul Snyder, internationally recognized automotive designer and chairperson, Transportation Design Department at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit, provides his perspective in this eAutomotive Update exclusive.

To equip design students at CCS for what awaits them in their careers, we have to prepare them for the automotive design challenges they will be facing in the next 10-20 years. In the next few decades, we will be seeing major advancements in connectivity, autonomous driving and ownership models that will have a big impact on automotive design. Our students are in high demand, especially as connectivity changes the experience of driving and allows drivers to have a more personalized experience when they enter the vehicle.

Automakers are reinventing the customer experience starting with the car buying process. It needs to be a seamless transition from the manufacturer’s website to the dealership to behind the wheel. The architectural materials in the dealership often match the car with the same types of wood trims, lacquer finishes and more. All these experiences need to be flawlessly branded together, especially as digital interaction becomes more important in the car buying and ownership experience.

As we look to the future of autonomous driving, traditional car ownership will change as new business models are introduced. Here are some predictions on what they may look like:

  • Autonomous on-demand, where the private owner selects to control the vehicle or have the vehicle control itself. We will see more of this type of ownership in the premium vehicle segment.
  • Subscription, where consumers subscribe to an entire brand portfolio of autonomous cars. A Ford SUV can be requested to take the kids to school whereas a sleek Lincoln sedan can be used for an evening out on the town.
  • Pay-as-you-go, or taxibots, as they have been referred to in the industry. These will be fleets of on-demand autonomous vehicles offered by companies such as Uber or Lyft.

Durable and functional interiors will be extremely critical. Many people may use one car and there will be no driver to determine if the car is clean enough for the next passenger. Materials will need to withstand hundreds of customers and be able to be user reconfigurable to meet varying user preferences as well as to change users without being taken out of service for cleaning or repair. Additionally, today’s seating configurations are designed for forward facing, constrained passengers. Without a driver, seating design may change to accommodate seating positions enabling more interaction between passengers and activities such as eating and sleeping.

Materiality in each one of the vehicles will have to correspond to the brand. For example, in the subscription model, the materials will distinguish a volume manufacturer from a premium manufacturer. The premium brand will have more amenities and sleek, high-end materials used in the interior. Attention to detail will have to carry throughout the brand experience.

The automobile of the future will look and act different than today’s cars. Materials will play a key role in making that possible.

For more information on Paul Snyder’s commentary, email Paul Platte: paul.platte@covestro.com

Back to Overview