“…consumers will still be able to feel emotional attachment to a car that isn’t theirs”

The video below is a recording of the musical through which Smart, owned by Daimler, revealed their ambitious self-driving minicar concept. Perhaps even the fact that their reveal included a musical speaks to attempts of Smart to make self-driving cars more of a fun, human-focused experience.

Their social approach certainly stands out from amongst their competitors who market themselves as super high tech and futuristic.

“Riders can’t own the smart vision EQ fortwo, but they can customize it, starting with the color of the car’s headlights to help them distinguish their ride from other smart vision EQ fortwos on the street. (No more walking into the wrong Uber Prius.) Once a passenger gets in, the car greets him or her by displaying a profile picture on the dashboard and loading a personal profile with the passenger’s favorite routes, places, and in-car entertainment (music, television, video games, etc.). In possibly the largest, as-yet untapped moneymaking opportunity of the autonomous age, it can also make recommendations based on passengers’ preferences” (Trop 1).

The smart vision EQ fortwo will operate at Level 5 on the self-driving scale. Users will be able to call it from their smartphones in a similar fashion to calling a Lyft or Uber.  In order to optimize efficiency and energy use, the smart vision EQ fortwo will operate through a platform that creates a carpool based on the passenger’s drop-off locations. Taking it a step further than Lyft Line and Uber Pool, the smart vision EQ fortwo will also incorporate a social aspect by matching riders based on things like music taste and Facebook likes (Trop 1). Furthermore, the rider who first gets into the car has the option to reject the pick-up request of prospective riders. Personally, I would appreciate this power to control who I would have to share a car with.  Like many others I’ve talked to, I’ve had uncomfortable experiences with other passengers who I shared an UberPool or LyftLine with. As a woman, I am especially cautious when I take an UberPool/LyftLine alone or at night. Having the power to reject other rider requests (plus not having a driver) would certainly make me feel more comfortable during a ride. This aspect of control is not something I would have thought of if it were not an option with the fortwo. This made me realize how clever the designers at Smart are to introduce new ways for riders to feel some sort of control in a situation where they might otherwise feel powerless.

Many people are apprehensive about self-driving cars because they do not trust the vehicle and do not want to give up all control. Becoming a passenger in a car rather than the driver means giving up a lot of control. Having a driver at least provides some sense of security because you can relate to the actions they are taking to control the vehicle because you have a conceptual model of driving. With self-driving cars, unless you were an engineer or designer for the car, you probably do not have a clear conceptual model of exactly how the car works.  The mechanics of the car is a black box to which you are giving up control.

This is why it’s so important that the smart vision EQ fortwo provides riders with ways to customize and regain some control their ride. Besides having the option to reject a potential new rider on your route, there are also options to change the color of the car’s headlights, change the text on the screen on the outside of the car, change the text in the wraparound banner inside the car, raise the bench screen in between the seats to create more privacy, etc. The options to customize the car are also a way that the company plans to build a rider’s attachment to a car that they do not own. Besides providing a sense of control back to riders, it’s also a smart way to build retention and loyalty. I’m excited to see if the smart vision EQ fortwo will change consumer apprehension and attitudes towards self-driving cars. It certainly is introducing a lot of fun and unique social aspects to the world of autonomous vehicles — which competitors should take care to note down.




  1. This is a super cool concept that really makes sense for making people feel more attracted to the self-driving cars they hop in. There are really simple user profiles attached to some modern cars. These will do things like adjust the seat to the way you like them automatically depending on your weight or if you input which user you are. That’s something that I found super cool, but really, it’s not that advanced. Computers have had the ability to completely wrap themselves around users based on logins. If you have a family computer, each person can have their own wallpaper, their own applications, their own files, and can pretty much customize their user profile to their liking. Other services take advantage of profiles such as Netflix. Even though the site is shared, our logins contain information about what we like to watch. We feel like we own our Netflix accounts, but really we are just digging through a database of movies and tv shows. Taking advantage of user profiles in the cloud is an awesome way to make shared cars more personal. We’ll need profiles to access these cars anyway, so why not have some extra preferences? What if the car could link to our Spotify accounts, so it would play music we like right when we get in the car. We could have wallpapers on any displays, and we could set the color of internal lights as well! I think this is a great step in the direction of bridging that personal ownership gap for shared vehicles.

  2. I agree with you that self driving cars will make the need to own a car irrelevant. In the past we have seen this many times. An article by the Wall Street Journal (https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-end-of-car-ownership-1498011001) makes an interesting point that as owning a horse has gone from a necessity (in the old west) to a current luxury, owning a personal car will become a luxury that only a select few enjoy. In order to foster the transition to self driving cars, everyone talks about trust and getting people to believe in the technology but even if the technology is foolproof and everyone trusts it, we must still overcome the emotional bond that many people have with their vehicles. A car is the source of pride and identity for many people and this is a point that is often overlooked.

    By giving people a way to customize their driving experience in a car that is not privately owned would give people a way to maintain this sense of identity. Furthermore, giving people control over how they share the vehicle while they are in it would give them a sense of ownership. I think that a transition directly from ownership to ride-sharing is far too drastic for the population to ever adopt. For this reason, slowly giving people less and less control over the ride itself could be a great option. Fist, people may want to borrow a car for hours or even days in order to get whatever they need done and in that time, the car would be exclusively used by that one person. Then, they could introduce an option to allow other people to share your ride. Like the idea that Smart proposed where it first ask you if you mind taking another passenger. Finally, they could offer tiered ride sharing like Uber vs UberPool where you can pay a slight premium for having the car all to yourself but after your drive, the car goes back into use for other people. This could prove to ease peoples worries while transitioning to the most economic and efficient use of this new technology. At first, many people were weary of using Uber and then Uber pool as it was a very new concept. Now, I know very few people who have never used an Uber and consider it a necessity when traveling around a city.

  3. Very cool concept that on the surface seems well thought out.


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