Coronavirus crisis to boost the private car?

Cars may yet pay for themselves through advertising
04 May 2020

The pandemic is hitting the automotive sector severely. Automotive sector supplier Continental is cutting production, as virtually all the major European carmakers – BMW, VW, Ford and PSA – are shuttering their plants and putting staff onto short-time working. Nevertheless, looking at China, there are grounds for cautious optimism, as production is slowly resuming there after a major collapse. Johannes Plass, CEO and founder of the Hamburg-based design and communications consultancy Mutabor, remains optimistic about the automotive sector’s prospects: “This crisis is likely to boost the car as a means of mobility,” he believes. 

Rising need for safe, personal space

Many people are re-evaluating the car as an alternative to public transport amid the coronavirus. “It caters to the current cocooning need, the desire to have one’s own safe space,” said Plass, who was a member of the body that prepared VDA’s decision on the next venue of the IAA, for which Hamburg was also in the running. And that space in your own car could in future prove even more comfortable and individual the more the trend to autonomous driving progresses. 

Driver assistance, automatic parking and robotic car

“The shift here is from Automation Level 1, assisted driving, including automatic lane centring and distance control that is already a reality in many cars, and Level 5: fully autonomous driving,” Plass pointed out. Whereas fully autonomous robotic cars are still well into the future, for as long as they cannot ensure total safety, intensive work is going into various intermediate steps. In 2018, for instance, a pilot project at Hamburg Airport saw drivers of Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche vehicles leave their cars at the entrance to the car park. The car then took over, and looked for the parking bay booked by app beforehand and parking – all automatically. Mercedes-Benz and Bosch are currently trialling a joint pilot project on automated valet parking, seeing this as a major milestone on the road to autonomous driving.

Johannes Plass CEO Mutabor

Fighting climate change and digitalization

Two main factors driving the mobility of the future namely fighting climate change and digitalization, according to Plass. More stringent CO2 limits imposed on carmakers’ fleets can only be achieved by increasing the share of low-emission vehicles at least partially powered by electricity. “Alternative engines will lead to an altered user experience,” Plass believes. Cars are now being charged, not filled up, prices are changing, and the necessary charging infrastructure has yet to be created. But Plass believes Hamburg is on the right course: “The city is a pioneer at installing charge points.” 

Entertainment an increasingly important issue

Digitalization could also boost the quality of the time we spend in our cars, Plass believes. “Entertainment will become a significant issue in the intelligent and autonomous vehicles of the future.” The car of the future could become a mobile living room, with films and virtual reality entertaining its ‘passengers’. “These are the revenue generators of the future,” Plass said, and envisages a wide range of business models. The screens integrated into the cockpits could play back tailor-made adverts, that could change constantly as the car communicates its destination and the trip’s purpose. “Your car could in the end even be free – financed by the commercials,” he says.