Can driverless cars be the destination?

By Martin Cardell

EY Global Mobility Solutions Leader

Focused on business transformation. Passionate about cars and exploring the world.

4 minute read 1 Oct 2017

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  • Can driverless cars be the destination?

In an era of self-driving cars and ride-sharing, automakers are retooling the interiors of autonomous vehicles to suit customers.

In the not-too-distant future, fully autonomous vehicles will be the norm rather than the exception, redefining urban mobility as we know it — and they will be shared, connected and green. For vehicle manufacturers, this trend poses immense opportunities, but also a clear risk that mobility-as-a-service could become a commodity, effectively severing the relationship between automakers and their customers — unless manufacturers find a way to customize vehicle interiors to both delight and deliver a personalized, connected in-vehicle experience.

When drivers become passengers and vehicle travel transforms from product ownership to service delivery, an interesting question arises: will they need the steering wheel, rearview mirrors, gear shifts, pedals or even a traditional instrument cluster?

Communal living rooms on wheels

Interiors can become whatever we want them to be. Companies have already demonstrated such technologies annually at the Consumer Electronics Show and at motor shows around the world.

Building a living room on wheels

A spectrum from functional to luxurious

With new mobility concepts such as car sharing, there is a risk of depersonalization. Mobility customers will no longer own the cars they drive in and therefore have no — or only limited — means of tailoring interiors to their individual demands.

While lighting technologies such as LEDs can be used to partially customize the appearance of vehicle interiors, it would be far more challenging (and expensive in terms of today’s cost) to do so more extensively. Automakers and mobility companies, therefore, face a key question: to what extent and in what manner should a car be personalized?

The hospitality industry offers important lessons. Consumers understand the tiered model where, for a price, they can choose from a spectrum of pure functionality to luxury. Functionality may include quality paired with limited personalization, while luxury is about comfort, personalization and experience.

In our automotive future, consumers could choose a functional form that balances price and efficiency for the commute, with limited personalization and the sharing of space with other occupants. At the other end, for a price, consumers could opt for private transportation that picks them up at their doorstep and offers an immersive multimedia experience without compromising comfort or privacy.

The battle for users, not just drivers and buyers

Automakers will undergo a most dramatic transformation as their entire business models shift from vehicle ownership to mobility-as-a-service. There is a real risk that automakers will have no relationship with the customer in this new ecosystem if they focus entirely on the product.

However, by personalizing the in-vehicle experience, automakers have a genuine opportunity to retain and strengthen those relationships. They will have to develop an ecosystem of willing collaborators (existing and new entrants) — technology companies, interior design firms, and media and entertainment companies, to name a few.

Material suppliers and Tier 1 automotive suppliers focusing on car interiors may also be heavily impacted. As the high-margin parts are eliminated, automotive companies are directing their attention to other high-margin business.

Given their footprint and direct connection with the consumer through sales and services, dealers also have a unique opportunity to shape the experience inside an autonomous vehicle. Just as automakers are doing, dealers should innovate and experiment with new business models to capture and maintain the customer relationship.

One of the drivers of change we expect to significantly impact the industry is disruption driven from outside the industry. Technology, media and entertainment organizations, start-ups and even mobility companies are offering their own alternative visions for what consumers can expect inside a future mobility solution — be it a self-driving road car or even a flying taxi.

These opportunities are driving transactions in the supplier community as suppliers try to acquire capabilities, such as mapping, augmented-reality technologies, artificial intelligence and deep learning.


The future of mobility will be driven by companies who embrace the consumers and technology of tomorrow — today.

About this article

By Martin Cardell

EY Global Mobility Solutions Leader

Focused on business transformation. Passionate about cars and exploring the world.