We know the nature of cars is changing to a so-called concept of “mobility” that has as many definitions as people who care to define it. Then along comes COVID-19 and our attitudes about vehicles and mobility get tossed up even more. Now what?
Designers at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, are working on it.
“People are very concerned about where they are and where they’re going,” says Kimberly Marte, a colors, materials and finishes educator at Art Center. “When we talk about automotive we know it’s definitely a comfortable place for people because they own their cars.” That certainly knocks a leg out from under the previously burgeoning trend toward ride-hailing, which has been gutted during the pandemic. That demands something of a 180 for mobility designers who must again focus on the future of the private car, not just of the shared ones.
“It’s the first time I can even imagine anything like this,” says Dave Marek, a 33-year veteran at Honda Americas and executive creative director for its Acura division. “Let’s take a step back. We’re going to have to design for the fact that different people are going to share a car, or that people are going to buy their own car again” because they won’t trust ride-share for the foreseeable future, or demand increased health and wellness tech in their personal car.
“Mobility design” can be a pretty esoteric concept, but Marte says interior materials are one tangible example.
“Can we engineer and validate materials that will help us reduce pollutants or viruses with biomimickry?” she says. “If we look at plants that can help clean the air, is there a way we can bring in some of that scientific knowledge to the textures we apply in automotive?”
Marek feels it’s up to automakers to lead, not just respond to what consumers figure out on their own about new normals. Health, not just safety, is becoming a factor in car design. “They expect some kind of response from us to make sure that we’re accounting for that.”
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