How coronavirus will change car design

Published: 03 June 2020

► How coronavirus will change car design 
► Kia’s new design chief explains all
► Expect more focus on germ-free interiors

Car designers are working on germ-free car cabins to minimise the spread of infections in future, the new design chief at Kia has revealed to CAR magazine. Karim Habib, who worked at BMW and Infiniti before landing the top job in South Korea, said his team was calculating how to respond to threats posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s likely that new materials could be used on interior surfaces and common touch points, such as door handles and car controls, to limit the spread of germs and nasties that have helped make Covid-19 so infectious. Many industrial designers are looking to materials such as copper, which is known to resist viruses and restrict onwards infection rates.

‘We're going to have talks with psychologists and anthropologists to really understand how the public’s psyche is going to be in future,’ Habib told us. ‘There are things we've already been talking about: can we have anti-viral coatings in our interiors? Can you use temperature or ultraviolet light to sanitise surfaces? These are things that we will have to think about rather soon. 

‘So, yes - Covid-19 will very much influence the way we design our cars in future.’

The car industry and the coronavirus pandemic: what's happened

Will the public be more scared of public transport after the pandemic? And how can car makers make their cars safer in a virus-riddled world?

Habib admitted that all car makers might have to reevaluate plans for more shared transport in future - the oft-touted vision of shared e-scooters for the last mile to work and cars as lounges where friends hang out in a social space on four wheels.

Kia e-Niro: in future all touchpoint must be germ-resistant in this pandemic age

’The pandemic has changed the way we live,’ he admitted. ‘Not only over the last few months but the way we will live in the future… For the last few years we have been talking about a sharing economy, shared mobility and public transportation. We will have to see how that develops right now, because of social distancing.

‘These new requirements will have a long-term effect on behaviour. What does this mean for cars? I think we'll have to wait and see - right now we are trying to expand our understanding of what this might mean - not only the types of vehicles we drive, but also how to design vehicles for shared mobility, or not, as the case may be.’

Habib said he was in Germany with his family at the start of the pandemic, but then moved to South Korea, where Kia’s HQ is. ‘Relative to a lot of places in the world, it was I think milder here. We kept working the whole time, but my children could not go to school anymore and we had to social distance. We have maintained a semblance of, you know, normal life.’

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By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

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