I’d like to introduce a weekly series where you, the Autosavant commentariat, are invited to take the reins of the auto industry, for at least as long as it takes you to write a comment. It’s all the responsibility, with none of the compensation!
We live in interesting times. Converging automotive technologies (like drivetrain electrification, automated driving, enhanced connectivity, etc) are advancing with frightening pace, yet the form factors themselves–the size, shape and mission of the cars themselves–have hardly changed at all in the last fifteen years. Small hatchbacks, large hatchbacks (served lukewarm and hot). Small vans, big vans (for commercial customers and large families). Crossovers of all sizes, from mini to Venti. You know the drill.
That begs the question: are we missing anything? Are there customers-in-waiting in the US who are still unserved by the showrooms of today?
To help things along, I’ve found some (dubious) unsold market segment ideas for your consideration:
Autonomous vehicles for municipal duties: I know, I know, I hate the idea of autonomous cars too. And the laws aren’t even ready for them, you say. But there may be a good field-testing opportunity if automakers pitch to the right customer: public utilities. According to a 2012 study by the EPA regarding litter abatement in coastal cities, a large metropolis like San Diego, CA or Portland, OR has an annual spend of around $5 million on street sweeping alone. In New York City, which reportedly spends around $16 million a year for the service, arcane laws keep drivers tied to their cars during the hours that street sweepers might come, for fear of being ticketed or towed. Without a cab or air conditioning, the sweepers could be far smaller and easier to maneuver, even around parked cars. And without the need for breaks or lunches, unmanned vehicles could sweep more often and for longer duration, thus catching unoccupied spaces more frequently and obviating the need to issue vast no-parking edicts for scheduled routes. Any vehicle that excels at street sweeping could easily be adapted to another task: curbside trash pickup.
Living rooms on wheels: Jason Torchinsky at Jalopnik recently brought up a proposal for a luxed-up Scion xB, basically an extremely austere, tall-box chassis, overstuffed with creature comforts and technology. It would almost certainly not be fun to drive. But it’s fairly easy to imagine a subset of yawning millennials and baby boomers who are breaking away from greater America’s lust for utility and performance. They never really cared about lateral-g figures, approach angles or Nürburgring lap times, and just want a peaceful place to whittle away their dull commute or long road trip. From a pricing and profit-per-unit perspective, it may make a lot of sense as well; it would potentially put some very nice materials and feature content within reach of the entry-luxury buyer. It could be the new Buick Roadmaster… for people who don’t know about the old Buick Roadmaster.
Tiny pickups: America. Buys. Pickup trucks. In the Deep South, where I live, I can’t throw a pebble without hitting a full-size pickup. We’re also on the cusp of a burgeoning midsize pickup truck market, with GM running a full media blitz for its new entrants, the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, a new Toyota Tacoma, and rumors swirling about Ford’s impending resurrection of the Ranger, due in 2016 or 2017. There’s also been a steady downsizing of commercial vehicles over the last decade, thanks in no small part to the introduction of Ford’s Transit Connect in 2009; the compact size, ease of parking, fuel efficiency and friendly sticker price attracted fleet customers in droves. Now the small-van market is swarming with offerings from Nissan, Chevrolet, Ram, and soon, Mercedes. Considering over 90 percent of new vehicle registrations in the US are for commercial customers, does the downsizing trend extend to pickups as well? If so, we could see the first resurgence of truly small pickups since the Chevrolet LUV, Mitsubishi Mighty Max, and Isuzu P’up.
What say you, chief? Anything I’m missing? Comment below.