The nascent sharing economy will have to work out how to ramp up its hygiene practices in a post-COVID world.
The sharing economy is often heralded as the next stage in mass mobility. Rather than each individual owning a car that requires parking space at home and at work, and adds to congestion when it's on the move, people simply request a ride from a shared pool of vehicles when they need it. This can come in the form of ride hailing services such as Uber or Didi Chuxing, or car sharing schemes including Share Now and Zipcar.
All of these services, however, face a rapidly changing operating environment in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both consumers and operators are likely to now have significantly increased expectations of hygiene compared to before the outbreak. The companies that can reassure customers that they've taken sufficient steps to ensure their health while using their services will probably pull out a quick lead over any rivals that attempt to return to business as normal.
The automotive industry, especially suppliers of interior components and technology, is already investigating methods of cleaning and sanitizing shared spaces in vehicles, and those products are likely to be fast-tracked to production once the virus is contained.
Leading the way in cabin cleanliness is Yanfeng Automotive Interiors. The company opened a test lab in Slovakia in 2017 to investigate material properties, including their resistance to bacteria as the industry moves towards shared mobility. Later in 2019, the company revealed a sanitization device that is fitted to a car's headliner and uses ultraviolet light so kill viruses and bacteria on surfaces around the vehicle, while a similar device in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system sanitizes the air inside the cabin.
JLR is investigating similar technology to neutralise pathogens in its HVAC systems. Its system uses high voltage to create negatively charged particles (ions) coated in water molecules. These ions deactivate pathogens, forming larger particles which are removed from the air as they travel through a filter. Supplier GHSP has also introduced a product called grenlite demonstrated at CES 2020 that sterilizes interior air and surfaces using ultraviolet light.
In addition to sterilization technologies, suppliers are investigating novel ways to reduce the amount of contact a user has with surfaces in the vehicles, minimizing the chances of ingesting a dangerous pathogen in the first place. Faurecia is keen to highlight how the old mantra of 'more buttons equalling more premium' no longer holds water with the advent of touchscreens. It foresees greater incorporation of gesture and voice-based controls in the future, meaning shared mobility users might not have to touch any surfaces at all.