Ikea is in the midst of a transformation. With the acquisition of Task Rabbit, the introduction of electronics and smart appliances, and the launch of augmented reality apps, the Swedish furniture giant is becoming more of a tech company. It is collaborating with companies like Adidas, Lego, and Sonos on its path toward being a source of all kinds of well-designed products. And now, the company’s innovation lab Space10 is looking into yet another area of life that Ikea is poised to touch: transportation.
Last week, Ikea announced a shift to a zero-emissions delivery fleet. This week, Ikea’s Space10 reveals it is looking even further into the future with self-driving car concepts. In collaboration with the design studio Foam, Space10 has released a set of seven concepts meant to help people think about how car interiors might shift when they become autonomous. There’s a shopping car (outfitted with Ikea products, of course), as well as a grocery car, a coffee car, and a hotel car, which people can view in augmented reality on Space10’s app. The concepts themselves are relatively simple in design: all Swedish minimalism with clean, curved lines–no metallic futurism to be seen.
The idea that self-driving cars will radically change what vehicles look like both inside and out, enabling them to offer a range of new services like coworking or entertainment on the go, is hardly new. And Ikea no doubt sees that as a business opportunity. “The day fully autonomous vehicles hit our streets is the day cars are not cars anymore. They can be anything,” Space10 cofounder Simon Casperson tells Fast Company via email. “So what would we like it to be? Maybe one day, Ikea’s expertise in home furnishing, and small space living, could find a whole new stage to thrive on–on wheels.”
Ikea has increasingly focused on how rapid urbanization will change the way we live, as people cram into smaller apartments (an idea direly reflected in its annual catalog). The company’s 2018 catalog featured a studio apartment for a single parent where the child’s bedroom was literally a closet (“This generation doesn’t believe in walls anyway,” the caption reads). Ikea has even studied how people might live on Mars to help it create products for small spaces on Earth. It’s a natural leap for Ikea’s strategic minds to think about other small spaces into which the company might one day expand its reach.
But while Ikea has its sights set on car interiors, it doesn’t plan to pull a Dyson and try to build a car itself. “We don’t have ambitions of manufacturing cars, but in a future where people no longer have to worry about driving, vehicle interiors can expand to a point where we no longer are designing cars, but rather small spaces,” Ikea’s concept innovation manager Göran Nilsson said in a statement. In other words, the future of car interiors will soon be more like the design of living spaces, rather than anything specific to transportation. “Then it’s suddenly an area where we have a lot of experience, but also an area where we would like to engage for new insight,” Nilsson says.
Ikea’s growth in areas outside of furniture, combined with its expansion into more urban markets with smaller stores, points to the company’s attempts to reach new customers, such as younger people, who would rather shop online than drive to a big-box store. Space10’s concepts are just another hint of how the company is trying to future-proof itself as living habits and demographics change to ensure its global dominance.
Regardless of whether Ikea is outfitting the future’s self-driving car interiors or not, there’s another bright possibility: Rather than trekking all the way out to a giant Ikea in the suburbs, you could have a car full of preselected furniture come to you autonomously. Who wouldn’t want a personal Ikea showroom on wheels?