An very interesting article in today's NY Times puts some motion in the water about how we think about cars and the place they have in our lives. Bob Nardelli is making his vision known, spring boarding off of what he knows best which is home improvement and consumer nesting habits via his leadership at Home Depot.
“I think a vehicle today has to be your most favorite room under your roof,” Mr. Nardelli said. “I really believe that. I mean, it has to bring you gratification, it has to be tranquil. It’s incidental that it gets you from Point A to B, right?”
Bob is partly right. The place cars play in the family has clearly evolved from the post WW2 consumer boom. From one car garages to the "second car" (video) phenomenon, fueled by manufacturing innovation and global access to raw materials, got more women and teens on the road and changed how we think about cars. Cars were about escape, freedom. They got us out exploring. Roads and businesses evolved as this product reshaped how people worked, played and shopped for goods and services. They spawned road trip vacations and drive-in restaurants- youth culture and new political realities with more of the country opened up to view by the general public. They became a way of communicating who you were because the role they played was fundamentally social and moving out of your home base to do something - to define who you are.
Now, home base is where more connecting and communication of status takes place. Technology has fueled this. From home theaters, to home draft beer, coffee and wine bars. Home is now a crucial hub. The need to venture out has changed and become more specific and less open-ended. More people share a greater percentage of their work life at home. More takes place in this space than ever before. There is more venturing inward and bringing people in based on connections helped by a new level of connectivity among people . The journey is now far more introspective. And in this move inward women play a far greater role in deciding what that experience is in this hub. So when we think of cars now we don't think of them as less escape pods and more comfort pods that need to keep that same level of cocooned experience. More similar to what we see happening in airline interior design. The other reality is that much of the experience of driving has been taken away via cruise control and improved roads and highways - so basically the weight of the experience is now a reinforcement of the comfort zone that is established in the home.
The position of the car as second living room is a bit of a quick jump though. It is more complex than that. Balancing aspects of car culture with aspects of home cocooning will be crucial.
A Chrysler spokesman, Mike Aberlich, said Mr. Nardelli’s comments might have stemmed from the briefings he received from the company’s marketing experts and car designers.
Their research has shown that customers are placing a greater emphasis on vehicle interiors. In fact, Chrysler has frequently referred to its minivans as “living rooms on wheels,” he said.