Why fly when you can be driven
Volvo Cars is exploring the potential to create vehicles that serve as a lucrative competitor to short-haul air travel.
The Swedish car maker considers shorter routes - where the distance between origin and destination is around 300 kilometres – prime candidates for disruption by an alternative mode of travel.
In the United States, for example, more than 740 million travellers embarked on domestic flights in 2017.
Above: Interior detail from the Volvo 360c concept.
Several busy domestic air routes, such as New York to Washington DC, Houston to Dallas and Los Angeles to San Diego, are more time-consuming by air than by car when including factors such as commuting to the airport, security checks, waiting for flights, boarding time, and those common flight delays.
With the US’s domestic air travel industry worth billions of dollars in revenue before other countries are taken into consideration, it could open up new growth markets for Volvo Cars.
“The [automotive] business will change in the coming years and Volvo should lead that change of our industry,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars. “Autonomous drive will allow us to take the big next step in safety but also open up exciting new business models and allow consumers to spend time in the car doing what they want to do.”
Volvo Cars recently unveiled its vision for a fully autonomous vehicle that negates the need for a human driver and instead provides freedom for its occupants to read, work or even sleep in a first-class cabin.
The Volvo 360c concept dispenses with the traditional multi-row seating arrangement of current cars to reimagine the way people travel, with a cabin that can serve four purposes: living room, entertainment space, mobile office, sleeping environment.
“Domestic air travel sounds great when you buy your ticket, but it really isn’t,” says Mårten Levenstam, senior vice president of corporate strategy at Volvo Cars. “The 360c represents what could be a whole new take on the industry. The sleeping cabin allows you to enjoy premium comfort and peaceful travel through the night and wake up refreshed at your destination. It could enable us to compete with the world’s leading aircraft makers.”
The 360c is a first yet deliberate step towards a broad discussion about the potential for autonomous driving technology to fundamentally change society in many ways.
“When the Wright brothers took to the skies in 1903, they did not have a clue about what modern air travel would look like,” said Mårten Levenstam. “We do not know what the future of autonomous drive will hold, but it will have a profound impact on how people travel, how we design our cities and how we use infrastructure. We regard the 360c as a conversation starter, with more ideas and answers to come as we learn more.”