Car design should be less about the user and more about the usage

At the beginning of most new vehicle development programmes the Design team sit with the Programme Management team and go through the project brief. Within this will be some form of ‘target user(s)’ — the term used by most car companies to define the core profile of person that a car is designed to appeal to most. But in the future when most cars will be shared by many, not owned by an individual, having a ‘target user’ in the design brief makes less sense than having a ‘target usage’. 


Shared cars are chosen for their suitability for a particular use. Today this often comes down to the prosaic suitability of being located close to the beginning of where the user wants to use it (and not being too expensive). And clearly today’s shared cars are all designed primarily for one person to undertake many different usages — they are not designed to be shared cars — so beyond the most basic measures of cabin and trunk capacity, there is not such great distinction of the suitability of one car over another for most usages. But as more car users become car sharers, so there will be more cars being shared, and thus both more choice of nearby car available to users, and, critically, more opportunity for cars to be designed to excel at specific types of usage. To win the custom of car share users, a car’s design will have to really excel at a specific usage and neither need to be able to do other tasks, nor want to compromise the usage they excel at by being designed to also do other things — a car that can do many things will both be less able to undertake one type of use, and more expensive than it needs to be.  


The number of shared cars today is increasing at a rate of 50% - 100% per year in most markets. The proportion of cars that are used exclusively as shared cars may remain less than those that are used by an individual for a few years yet, but it is set to become a very significant minority of the total car-park for the generation of cars under development today — cars being designed with a ‘target user’, not a ‘target usage’. And when autonomous cars become mature, the shared car will be the most common type of car, and so most cars will be used by hundreds of different users. Cars then will be about types of usage not types of user; they will need to be designed for ‘target usages’ not ‘target users’.