The COVID-19 pandemic has changed mobility.
It has also changed the car user’s perception of safety and comfort inside the automotive.
As a result, the global car user’s willingness to invest in solutions against pathogens on interior surfaces and the in-cabin air is growing.
This development is one of the key findings of the second Asahi Kasei Automotive Interior Survey conducted in December 2020.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is having a severe impact on mobility. Recent surveys show that the use of public transport and ride-sharing services has declined severely.
In contrast, the popularity of the private car as a safe space with a low infection risk is increasing. The surveys suggest that the pandemic will have a lasting effect on existing and future mobility concepts – and on the materials and technologies used inside the automotive.
As the main interface between the user and the car, surface materials are defining how the driver and the passengers perceive the automotive interior and, more importantly, the driving experience itself.
In the past, automotive interiors needed to be comfortable, attractive, and smooth to the touch.
The COVID-19 pandemic is adding a new dimension to this topic, clearly raising the need for overall cleanliness and safety against invisible threats inside the car.
This development was also confirmed by the second representative "Asahi Kasei Automotive Interior Survey" conducted in December 2020 by Asahi Kasei and the Cologne-based market research institute SKOPOS.
Five hundred vehicle users in each of the global automotive core markets Germany, USA, China, and Japan were asked about their preferences regarding the future automotive interior.
Global car users see a benefit in easy-to-maintain surfaces and air filtration systems.
One key finding of the survey was the importance of cleanliness inside the car.
In Germany, 64% of the car users are putting a great emphasis on this topic, valuing it even higher than connectivity, the intuitive operation, or the personalization of the car. The same results can be observed in the other markets: For four out of five car users in China cleanliness inside the car is important.
While the perception of cleanliness is subjective, it becomes clear that this topic is moving car users around the world.
While premium and lasting interior looks climb in importance, more people are increasingly aware of the surfaces they touch and the air they breathe – especially in a confined space like a car.
Asked about features they would consider beneficial in their next car, 75% of the car users in Germany pointed out “surface and seating materials that are easy to wash”, followed by an “advanced air filtration system filtering the OUTSIDE AIR entering the vehicle” (69%) and “water and dirt repellent surfaces” (66%).
The same features are also clearly moving the car users in the USA and China. In addition, 87% of the car users in China see a benefit in an “advanced air filtration system filtering the AIR WITHIN the vehicle,” 83% in “surfaces that can eliminate viruses in places you touch the most.”
“This new survey is confirming the results of our first survey from October 2019, where cleanliness already was a big topic for the car users in Europe," said Heiko Rother, GM Business Development Automotive at Asahi Kasei Europe. "The automotive manufacturers are facing the new challenge of taking away the user’s concerns about invisible threats, making him or her feel safe and comfortable again inside their vehicle. This goes specifically for private cars, but also for all current and future mobility concepts.”
The car user’s accelerating needs towards hygienic features is also reflected in the readiness to pay for solutions for safe surfaces and air inside the car.
For a hypothetical, optional “Surface Protect” Package [a hypothetical, optional package with interior materials that provide anti-viral/ anti-microbial properties, stain and odor resistance and improved weathering and scratch resistance], 35% of the German car users planning to purchase a new car would be willing to pay an additional €1,000.
In the USA, every second car user agrees to pay $1,000, every fourth even $1,500.
While 70% of the car users in China would pay 5,000 CNY, every third would be inclined to pay 7,000 CNY, showing a strong acceptance on the Chinese market for additional features that contribute to hygienic surfaces.
A similar trend can be seen regarding features that contribute to air safety. When purchasing a new car, every third car user in Germany would be inclined to pay €1,000 for a hypothetical, optional “Cabin Protect” Package [hypothetical, optional package including an automated ventilation system that eliminates microbes and pathogens in cabin air, monitors CO2 levels to reduce drowsiness and provides active occupant sensing for child/pet left behind], ensuring safe air inside the passenger compartment.
The same development can be observed in the USA, where around every second car user agrees with paying $1,000, and every fifth even willing to pay $2,000.
In China, the demand is clearly higher, with 71% of the car users willing to pay 5,000 CNY, 40% even 7,000 CNY.
“In order to make the private car, but also other existing and future mobility concepts safer in regard to invisible threats on surfaces and in the air, new material and technology solutions will quickly need to find their way into the development process," Rother said. "With its 'Healthy Car' portfolio including antimicrobial seat fabrics and plastics, as well as UVC-LED solutions for in-car air filtration, Asahi Kasei is already at the forefront, looking forward to teaming up with the automotive industry and to contribute to a safer mobility."