GOTHENBURG, Sweden — Volvo Cars’ fully autonomous, fully electric 360c concept car shows the automaker’s ideas for winning a large share of the multi-billion dollar short-haul air travel business.
It sees the multi-functional, connected self-driving car as a viable alternative for trips of about 300 km (186 miles), opening new business opportunities for the automaker, which wants autonomous vehicles to account for a third of its global sales by 2025.
“Domestic air travel sounds great when you buy your ticket, but it really isn’t. The 360c represents what could be a whole new take on the industry,” Volvo Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy Marten Levenstam said in a release.
Volvo says the 360c, which does not have a steering wheel, shows four potential uses of autonomous vehicles — a sleeping environment, mobile office, living room and entertainment space.
“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,” Levenstam said.
According to Volvo, more than 740 million travelers embarked on domestic flights in the United States last year, generating billions of dollars in revenue for the domestic air travel industry.
Several busy domestic air routes, such as New York City to Washington D.C., Houston to Dallas and Los Angeles to San Diego, are more time-consuming by air than by car when factoring in travel to the airport, security checks and waiting times.
According to a column that appeared in May in the USA Today newspaper, five out of six U.S.-based business travelers reported they have cut back on airline travel in the last five years. The No. 1 reason was because they felt air travel has become more difficult or stressful. Many of those travelers are taking a train or bus or driving themselves, especially if their destination is five hours or less away.
Volvo also foresees its autonomous vehicles luring customers away from buses and trains because it says its solution will offer the combination of comfort, convenience and privacy.
Volvo admits that it doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to autonomous cars.
“We regard the 360c as a conversation starter, with more ideas and answers to come as we learn more,” Levenstam said. “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.”
One key area of concern Volvo has about robocars is how they will communicate with one another.
The automaker says the 360c addresses this challenge with a combination of external sounds, colors, visuals, movements, as well as combinations of these tools, to communicate the vehicle’s intentions to other road users. The aim is to make sure it is always clear what the car will do next.
“We strongly believe this communication method should be a universal standard, so all road users can communicate easily with any autonomous car, regardless of which maker built it,” Volvo Cars Safety Center Vice President Malin Ekholm said in a release. “But it is also important that we do not instruct others what to do next, in order to avoid potential confusion. Our research shows this is the safest way for fully autonomous cars to communicate with other road users.”