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A shared mobility future raises questions for auto suppliers today

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August 21, 2017 Updated 8/21/2017

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.”

Yanfeng Automotive Interiors Yanfeng Automotive Interiors will show a concept interior at the Frankfurt auto show that includes 3D mapping of the interior, so you don’t leave anything behind.

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 like Uber and Lyft are already 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.

“We believe it’s going to be significant,” Hendriks said. “What we don’t know is how fast, but that’s because it’s so incredibly logical. Cars are being used 5 percent of the time and 95 percent of the time they’re idle, just sitting there parked at work or at home.”

Cars used only as needed also will add flexibility. If you only need a truck a few times a year to haul a trailer, you could have a commuter car in your garage but use a shared car service as needed.

And shared mobility is more than just Uber even now.

General Motors Co. launched its Maven ride-sharing division in 2015. It has now expanded Maven to the new service Maven Gig, which allows members to rent vehicles for a week at a time specifically to drive for ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft or for deliveries.

Maven Gig allows people to become freelance drivers without even owning a car. Detroit-based GM announced Aug. 15 that it is expanding Maven Gig across the United States.

“The freelance economy is growing and Maven Gig is growing along with it to provide transportation solutions for freelance drivers,” said Rachel Bhattacharya, GM’s chief growth officer for Maven.

PSA Group, the French carmaker of the Peugeot brand, will use ride sharing under the brand Free2Move to ease its re-entry into the U.S. auto market, with vehicles available in limited markets under a shared ownership system. Peugeot last sold cars in the U.S. in the early 1990s.

Companies such as Zipcar already are part of the car-sharing landscape while technology giants including Google are eyeing the marketplace.

“So now your whole experience of a brand — BMW, Ford, Uber — is not going to be determined by two to four years of owning that car; it’s going to be determined by a 20-minute ride,” Hendriks said. “That experience will drive your decision on whether to take that service the next time or not.”

Adient Seat maker Adient says future shared vehicles need to be intuitive to use, and adjust automatically to users.

Lessons from hotels

With that limited amount of exposure, having the right look, feel and even smell to a shared vehicle become much more important, Hendriks said.

“The moment you open the door, it has to smell fresh. You look inside, and it’s clean. It doesn’t look worn out. Branding that freshness becomes part of your brand as a mobility provider,” he said.

That’s where surface materials come back into play.

“Look at China, where you can’t have any odor from the cars now, and how that changes the materials you use,” IAC’s Ryntz said.

Yanfeng, which is based in Shanghai with North American offices in the Detroit suburb of Novi, Mich., has been talking with hotel companies to see if their cleaning and maintenance practices for the shared space of a room have any lessons that can be of use to the auto industry.

“That’s an ages-old, centuries-old industry,” Hendriks said. “It’s a shared space and every time you enter that hotel room, it should be brand-new and fresh.”

But cars also carry crash safety issues, which means it’s not simple to just translate a hotel room to a vehicle.

Adient, the car seat maker spun off from Johnson Controls Inc., is looking to the connectivity available in mobile phones and online apps to help make it easy for a driver to move from a small commuter to a minivan in a shared mobility future.

Adient has a partial ownership stake in Yanfeng. Yanfeng includes parts of former JCI holdings.

“It’s got to be intuitive,” said Richard Chung, vice president of innovation for Adient. “It shouldn’t take more than 10 seconds to figure out what you’ve got in the vehicle and where.”

He envisions a system where you may put all your information into a user profile the first time you rent from a car-sharing service: height and leg length so the car seat can automatically adjust to the proper location for you as soon as you unlock the door; if you want a heated seat and at what temperature; where the mirrors should swivel so you get the best view of the traffic around you.

“We have that in our aim, to make it as simple to use as possible,” Chung said.

Finding the forgotten

Shared vehicles also bring up another potential error, namely the likelihood that someone will forget something in that shared car, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

“I left my cellphone once in a taxi,” Hendriks said. “I don’t want to do that again. Losing a cellphone is a nightmare. So we have this idea, and its quite advanced already in the execution, of a ‘not forget’ feature.”

So, picture yourself in a car you’ll be using to drive to the office in the morning. The moment before you get in, a monitor integrated into the plastic of the headliner or near the mirror takes a 3D image of the inside of the car. When you reach your destination, right after you walk away from the car, it takes another 3D image and compares the two. Forget a file? You’ll get an alarm. Leave behind the wrapper from your breakfast sandwich? Ditto.

Yanfeng expects to show a concept of the 3D mapping system at the Frankfurt auto show in September.

Of course the “not forget” feature also will affect the look of interiors. A 3D map won’t see inside a closed storage bin, so the future shared car will likely look a little different from a personal vehicle. But at the same time, the same issue applies to creating an inviting — and clean — interior auto suppliers will be developing for the shared mobility future.

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