It looks like the sort of cabin you’d see on a $20,000 United Emirates dream flight, complete with a dining table, bed, and champagne on ice. But it’s not a plane. It’s a Volvo.
Specifically, you’re looking at the Volvo 360c concept car, the company’s vision for a self-driving electric vehicle that doesn’t just provide the option to sleep your commute away, it aggressively blurs the lines of work, play, and transportation. And if you buy into that glossy idea (which seems to bend the laws of physics much like a Transformers movie fudges how Optimus Prime actually turns into that semi truck), you can almost see a future where your home and office are both less important than the car you use to get between them.
The theoretical vehicle features four adaptive modes that reshape the car’s cabin for various uses: You can sit buckled in with a tray table, much like you do on a plane, for snacking or casual work. You can set up a mobile office, with a large fold-out table and seating for four, along with a giant monitor displayed on the side windows. You can fold a seat down into a bed, complete with a side console for storage. (How is this safe? Along with the 360c concept, Volvo floated the idea of a “safety blanket” about which I could gather no additional details upon request.) And finally, there’s a party mode, with bench seating and a low coffee table that features a side bar and slots for bottles on ice.
Many of these ideas we’ve seen presented before, but the 360c proposes them all in a single cohesive vision. What’s just as interesting as the design itself is Volvo’s business plan behind the 360c. The company introduced a subscription model earlier this year which allows you to rent a car for a flat rate monthly fee that includes insurance. With the 360c, Volvo proposes that this subscription could evolve even further, to be paid for on-demand by your company, akin to how we consider company cars, corporate Uber accounts, or even business class airline tickets today. Maybe you’d hop into a car, booked by your employer, for a six-hour work trip instead of a two-hour flight.
This positioning is absolutely intentional. As Volvo says in its press release, a true autonomous car that allows a private space for you to relax and work can be much more than a vehicle. It can be a third space in which maybe even a four-hour daily commute would seem reasonable, as well as a feasible alternative for employees who are constantly hopping on regional flights as part of the business. The travel experience Volvo envisions could be a “lucrative competitor to short-haul air travel, a multi-billion dollar industry comprising airlines, aircraft makers and other service providers. The 360c sleeping environment enables first-class private cabin travel from door to door, without the inconvenience of airport security, queuing, noisy and cramped airliners.”
While all this rhetoric about Volvo taking on the airline industry may sound like marketing fluff, it’s also true that autonomous cars should make airlines nervous–at least according to one analyst.
Considering that a WeWork subscription with a dedicated desk starts at $350/month, and a Volvo subscription runs $600 all-in, it becomes eerily plausible that, if a vehicle manufacturer really can deliver on an autonomous car that’s as flexible and appealing as the 360c, it really could impact the way we live, work, and commute–and all through a heavily subsidized subscription offered as an incentive by the hippest, or even penny-pinching, job providers.