‘Shared’ has become a buzzword in transport system design over the last few years. Cars are expensive to own and maintain. This, alongside the trend for urbanization and concerns over sustainability, has contributed to a rise in the popularity of shared vehicle concepts and shared vehicle ownership schemes.
Jaguar Future-Type concept (2017)
In 2019, Autocar magazine reported that 350,000 people in the UK alone have joined a shared ownership model. Schemes included Enterprise Car Club and BMW’s (now defunct) DriveNow. In parallel, manufacturers have created concepts specifically designed for shared ownership. The Jaguar Future–Type proposes a model in which individual users pay a subscription to use the vehicle, the only element they own is a steering wheel that plugs into the car when they want to drive it.
As well as shared ownership, manufacturers have been investigating shared spaces. Concepts tend to make use of driverless technology and electric powertrains, allowing a handful of users to travel for relatively short distances in urban environments. The move towards sharing has seen manufacturers like Bosch, who do not currently produce cars, enter the fray. Bosch’s take on a shared pod is called the IoT Shuttle (see video below); Jaguar Land Rover’s take is called Project Vector. There are many more…
The coronavirus pandemic has meant the introduction of social distancing worldwide. This in turn has called into question the viability of vehicles with shared ownership models and which contain spaces that users who do not know one another must share.
Bosch IoT Shuttle unveiled at CES 2019
Though infection rates have now fallen in some parts of the world, the pandemic may have long-term effects on the public’s perception of shared vehicles. In a recent Car Magazine article, Karim Habib, Senior Vice president of Design at Kia Motors, suggested that manufacturers will have to review their plans for introducing shared vehicles:
“The pandemic has changed the way we live, […] Not only over the last few months but the way we will live in the future… For the last few years we have been talking about a sharing economy, shared mobility and public transportation. We will have to see how that develops right now, because of social distancing […] These new requirements will have a long-term effect on behavior.”
Alongside manufacturers, students have invested in proposing shared vehicle concepts. Many transport design student portfolios will feature at least one shared use concept. The issue for a student – or a recent graduate – hoping to secure an internship or a junior position, is how to reflect on such concepts?
Seymourpowell’s Quarter Car concept
The time spent creating these concepts makes this a real worry for students. The pandemic brings opportunities for students to rework their designs to make them fit more readily with current contexts. Seymourpowell’s Quarter Car concept is a shared-use pod with adjustable screens and an air purification system that allows users to isolate from other users if they wish.
Inspired by this kind of thinking, students may want to rework shared vehicles in ways that allow users to isolate themselves. Re-considering the choice of materials, finish and color will also help to bring concepts up to date. It is necessary to allow users to feel confident that the vehicle they are being transported in is safe and clean. Soft fabrics, for example, are not perceived as being easily cleaned. This is especially important in shared ownership business models that depend on a fast turnaround of products.
When designing shared vehicles concepts, it is important to consider a whole service or system. Students may want to include space in the package for the vehicle to dispense personal protective equipment. It may be valuable to design accessories which allow users to effectively transport (and safely dispose of) personal protective equipment during their journey. Waiting in a public space for the vehicle to arrive increases the possibility of users coming into close proximity with both other users and pedestrians. It would be worth thinking about how to reduce these risks.
Concise and effective storytelling will help students to show prospective employers that they are able to think about system-wide issues associated with shared ownership, increasing their employability.
I do not believe that shared ownership vehicles will become consigned to history. The issues of cost, available parking space and sustainability – which have promoted both growth in car clubs and have driven manufacturers to invest in creating shared vehicle concepts and systems – will remain when the pandemic has passed.
Future concepts will need to make use of aspects like experimental seating plans and innovative materials to test public reactions to re-accepting shared ownership models. The post-coronavirus era provides an excellent opportunity for students to engage in the discussion by being at the forefront of creating experimental designs for shared ownership.