Consumers Want Cootie-Free Cars

Forget heated steering wheels and Apple CarPlay. What consumers really want is a cootie-free car. 

And by cootie, of course I mean COVID-19.

Anti-microbial coatings are a desired feature for high-touch surfaces inside a personal vehicle, including door handles, steering wheels, displays and consoles, according to a consumer survey conducted by IHS Markit.

In a survey across five major markets (China, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States) 54% of nearly 800 consumers say they are “very interested” or “interested” in having an anti-microbial coating in their next personal vehicle.

This technology adds specialized polymer coatings to deter viruses such as COVID-19 from remaining on the surface. 

While it would not be economical to coat the entire interior of a vehicle, automakers and suppliers could use cost-effective countermeasures on high-touch surfaces.

According to IHS Markit research, the most common surface consumers are interested in anti-microbial applications for are interior door handles, followed by the steering wheel, seats, touch screen display, and the center console. Other critical surfaces for anti-microbial coatings include exterior door handles, the gear shifter, and various touchpoints on the instrument panel.

What’s really surprising is that customers not only want this, but are wiling to pay extra for it. 

“In an era where paying for additional options are not always welcomed by consumers when buying a new vehicle, nearly half of the respondents indicated they would be willing to pay more than $100 USD to have an anti-microbial coating,” said Kyle Davis, senior automotive analyst, UI/UX at IHS Markit.  “This should signal to OEMs that they can offer these coatings as an optional addition to the vehicle going forward.”

Not surprisingly, automakers and suppliers are already developing applications for new and existing materials to be used in these applications. Copper and its alloys continue to be the preferred choice since they exhibit natural anti-microbial properties. Recent studies have indicated that COVID-19 was not present on a copper surface four hours after exposure.

Solutions that do not directly involve anti-microbial coatings  are also being investigated by automakers and their suppliers, such as a solution that heats up the interior of the vehicle to the point that it significantly reduces the spread of COVID-19, or an ultraviolet light that can be used to sterilize the interior of the vehicle. 

A portable device would be attractive to consumers who plan to resume using ride sharing, taxis or even subways. 

A friend is planning to take the New York City subway today for the first time since the pandemic began, and I am worried about her safety. But in major cities it’s really hard to get around without public transportation or ride sharing. A magic wand that kills germs could be a godsend. 

IHS Markit found that 25% of consumers said that they will not use ride sharing after the COVID-19 pandemic ,and 80% of consumers expect their rideshare vehicles to have some sort of disinfecting supplies going forward. Nearly half (48%) of respondents said that they will still use ridesharing going forward, but will reduce the frequency in which they were accustomed to before the pandemic.  

“While the growing importance of mobility as a service prior to the pandemic was forecast to challenge car ownership norms in the future, the COVID-19 dynamic has emphasized the underlying importance of having a personal vehicle, and consumers are rethinking their personal transportation needs as they adapt in this new environment,” said Davis.

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