Detroit — To the fortune tellers with crystal balls, I ask this question: What will tomorrow's vehicles look like?
It is a question I keep hearing over and over from people like me who enjoy planning ahead and avoiding the chaos of the unknown whenever possible.
It is also a question automakers at January's North American International Auto Show tried to answer with concept vehicles — Volkswagen's electric crossover SUV concept, known as the I.D. Crozz, was decked out with autonomous tech, for example. But it was two presentations at the Plastics in Automotive conference that really got me thinking: When it comes to future mobility, are we looking for answers in the right places?
Take Steven Lee, 25, and Johnathan Gill, 27, two art students at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit, who presented their visions of future transportation during the Jan. 16 conference organized by Plastics News.
The students worked with the American Chemistry Council during a fall semester studio class, where they were asked to design a lightweight level 5 autonomous vehicle with plastic components for the city of Detroit in 2030. The finished vehicle designs from Lee and Gill offered a look at what the next-generation is forecasting for tomorrow's automotive industry.
My generation — ah, the influential and mysterious millennials — is the largest age cohort in the United States, surpassing Generation X and the baby boomers, according to U.S. Census Bureau population projections. Just as we have helped shape the evolution of the online world, especially social media — raise your hand if you remember the heydays of MySpace, LiveJournal and AOL Instant Messenger — we are also going to influence the evolution of the automobile.
And if these examples from Lee and Gill are to be taken seriously, future transportation will be multifunctional, yet imaginative, and durable, yet environmentally friendly. Well, maybe there will be some hands-free selfie technology on the interior, too, since millennials are (allegedly) massive narcissists.
"Millennials and younger generations that have grown up with technology will drastically influence what these future vehicles will look like and also how they function," Lee wrote in a Feb. 12 email.
"With fewer youths getting [driver's] licenses and a decreased average in interest in cars as a whole, how can the future accommodate those who still want to drive and those who wish to be autonomously transported to their destinations?" he asked. "That will be the task for the new generation of car designers."