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Here’s how Kia and Mercedes are cashing in on your driving stress

Here’s how Kia and Mercedes are cashing in on your driving stress
[Photo: SOCMIA Fotografía/Unsplash]

Your car isn’t going to be just a mode of getting through the Taco Bell drive-through if Kia, Mercedes, and other car brands have anything to say about it. A new report from CB Insights lays out how car companies are trying to cash in on your driving stress by turning your personal vehicle into a wellness oasis.

The ever-expanding market of health, wellness, and well-being now includes banks pitching “financial wellness,” airports offering pre-flight wellness centers, pants manufacturers dabbling in self-care, and cars doubling as roving wellness pods, CB Insights finds. Basically, there’s a growing trend of cars designed to improve their drivers’ mental state and overall health. That means cars that can detect passengers’ emotions, so if you’re getting stressed and anxious, it can start adjusting the in-car environment to help soothe and relax you.

While a wellness vehicle would ideally just reroute you to that aforementioned Taco Bell drive-through for a little self-care, car companies have been thinking bigger: At CES 2019, for instance, Kia debuted a concept car that could detect a driver’s emotional state and then tweak the lighting and emit mood-salving perfumed scents, thereby improving their mood before they go full road rage. It undoubtedly works well with their Pantone mood lighting.

Of course, much of this spa-like technology is designed for those coming halcyon days when autonomous vehicles let humans drive without actually having to watch the road, even if we are still a long way off from full self-driving cars. For now, Mercedes-Benz is refining “in-car spa” experiences for its luxury autonomous vehicles, including the S Class. According to CB Insights, that includes perfuming the air when it becomes stale, blasting energizing music to wake the driver if they are getting sleepy at the wheel, and letting drivers connect to a fitness tracker to automatically adjust their in-car environments according to their stress levels and other physiological metrics. Mercedes is also working on wellness outside the car, with personalized health and fitness tips from a Mercedes Fit and Healthy Coach.

The trend has been growing for a while. Back in 2017, Hyundai debuted its own “Health + Mobility Cockpit” concept at CES, which monitored the driver’s physical and emotional well-being. It would also deliver “Mood Bursts,” so if a driver started feeling stressed, a Calm Burst would help them chill. And if they got sleepy, an Alert Burst would perk them up.

The boundaries of what’s considered “wellness” are not easily defined, but CB Insights estimates a global market now worth about $3.7 trillion.

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