How COVID-19 is changing the role of the car

Joelle Elfassy

In 2020, the world went into mass hysteria as a then unknown virus touched down on almost every continent on the globe. Citizens, brands, governments, and manufacturers around the world quickly pivoted to tackle what was soon to become one of the largest pandemics to have ever been recorded in modern history. What most people didn’t know was how long it was going to last and how it was going to change their lives. With more people at home, we saw businesses focused on the home quickly flourish and businesses reliant on people out of the home quickly perish. One thing is for certain: your morning commute, at least in the western hemisphere, has changed from sitting in traffic in your car, listening to podcasts and radio, to rolling out of bed to your dining room table or home office (if you’re lucky).

As the role of the home changed, so did the role of the car. According to the Center for Automotive Research, 90% of people will not be going back to an office full-time. How will drivers continue using their cars? Households are busier and louder than ever, and with the introduction of connectivity, panoramic sunroofs, and enhanced sound, the car is becoming the new, mobile office. How will automotive manufacturers continue to plan features to support the future role of the car, as post-pandemic life currently remains unpredictable?

At CES 2021, representatives across the automotive industry, including GM, Panasonic, Audi, and Robert Bosch all agreed on one thing: the pandemic has provided the greatest opportunity to not only optimize automotive technology to fit the new lifestyles of global consumers, but to also personalize the experience to move the car from the third most utilized space to the second. One example of this discussed by Panasonic Automotive is the concept of private sound bubbles, whereby passengers in the same car can all  listen to their own music without disrupting the other passengers, while drivers are equipped with "Whisper Agents" that will share driving directions quietly in their own zone. 


Another example that will begin to change the way consumers purchase cars are through “Over the Air” updates, which are beginning to roll out faster among automotive brands looking to sell “seasonal” features that can be turned on and off depending on drivers’ needs at different times of the year. The model has gone from “buy everything now” to “buy what you need when you need it.” With 25% of consumers purchasing cars without having seen them in person, and with companies like GM committing to 35 new Electric Vehicle Models by 2025, the looming question becomes, what  role will the dealership play in the future? 

Automotive technology has become so complex, cars now have 4× more data than an aircraft. From “Over the Air” updates to AI collision avoidance technology to Wi-Fi hot spots, cars are more connected than ever and require more collaboration with big tech, government agencies, lawmakers, and even consumers themselves. And as the world emerges in a new, post-pandemic world, it will be interesting to see how quickly consumers embrace and adopt the new role of their ever changing vehicles.