TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.—If the future of mobility is shared, as most studies suggest, key suppliers of auto interiors have a lot of questions about what that will mean about the instrument panels, door panels, center consoles and every other surface you see and touch.
"In that space, you're going to be looking at self-healing surfaces, so you don't have a scratched interior, self-cleaning, antidust, odor management," said Han Hendriks, chief technology officer for Yanfeng Automotive Interiors. "Also, how much cleaning do you have to do? What has to be cleaned once every 24 hours? Once a week? Once a month?
"What surfaces need to be replaced after three months or six months or a year?"
Instead of designing a car that will be used for four people, interior suppliers may be asked to design one for 4,000 different people. And rather than long-term ownership, consumers' experience with a particular brand may only be through 20-minute commutes.
"From a shared vehicle perspective, the first question you have to answer is what is the lifetime of that shared vehicle. It's not going to be 10 years, I don't believe, but you still have to have more durable materials," said Rose Ryntz, vice president of advanced development and material engineering for International Automotive Components, during the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City July 31-Aug. 2.
"Do you really want to get in a car when the person before you hasn't been clean? I don't want to even get into some taxis in New York, so we're definitely looking at the need for antimicrobial coatings on some plastics and some level of cleanability."
What are the chances?
Consultants and auto industry insiders alike believe that shared mobility is becoming more likely, with the roots of it already in place.
Companies such as Uber and Lyft already are established as just the first elements of shared vehicles with users getting inside a driver's personal car. In just a few years, the concept of ride hailing has reached the point where the brand name Uber is becoming a verb, as Hendriks points out.
But that is just the beginning.
The Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, recently did a study looking at where the auto industry will be in 2040. In a survey of top industry experts, it said that 83 percent think commercially offered shared rides will make up more than 5 percent of all U.S. passenger miles by 2030, and 78 percent think commercially offered shared rides will account for more than 20 percent of U.S. passenger miles traveled by 2040.
The numbers will likely be higher outside the U.S., in areas where car-owning can be expensive due to taxes or the cost of renting garage space.
That does not mean that there will be no privately owned cars. Instead, it's likely that households will own fewer cars, relying on sharing services for a second or third car.