What if IKEA made a car?

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When it comes to buying a car, consumers are spoiled for choice. There is an increasing number of car brands, each with an ever-growing catalogue of different models to buy. Then, once you’ve bought the car, the list of things which can be customised seems almost endless! Nearly everything can be customised, whether its the colour, the interior, the performance or the addition of extra features such as heated seats. And that’s just buying new — at this moment in time there is an estimated is an estimated 1.4 billion cars on the road. 

This has led to the repairs process often becoming a lengthy one with the sheer amount of different and unique parts out there often leading to lengthy delays whilst mechanics order the specific parts to repair your vehicle

What if someone challenged this set up? 

 
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Disrupting the market

It came as somewhat of a shock when IKEA launched its own bicycle, the SLADDA, in 2016. This was the first step from the furniture specialist into the transport industry.

“We didn’t start off thinking of a bike from the very beginning,” says Marcus Engman, Ikea’s head of design. “We started off actually designing a new transport system.”

Every detail was considered to centre around the needs of the owner; from the quick-release front wheel to the click-on system that lets users instantly pop on accessories such as racks or a trailer if they needed to carry something bigger than usual. The bike was also designed to be low maintenance to run. Instead of a chain, the SLADDA utilised a carbon belt drive designed to avoid the common issues that are seen with traditional chains. The gearing was automatic, and the frame rust-free.

Of course, this being IKEA, the bike was also designed to be as affordable as possible. At launch, the bike cost £349 and as standard with IKEA products, some self assembly was required.

Sounds perfect, right?

 
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Almost.

In early 2018, IKEA was forced to recall all SLADDA bikes sold after a number of incidents relating to the belt drive snapping causing users to fall and injure themselves.

Originally marketed as a selling point, it was the carbon belt drive that ultimately consigned the SLADDA to the scrap heap. The choice to go with the unique belt drive made it impossible for IKEA to simply swap in a chain on the bike.

IKEA’s SLADDA came extremely close to disrupting the bicycle world, garnering overwhelmingly positive reviews and winning multiple awards but in the end it fell short due to a lack of consideration as to how the units may be repaired.

“My guess is that they couldn’t replace the belt with anything they could be confident in without spending a whole lot more money, and instead decided this little bike experiment was not where they should be spending their time,” says Simon Dunne, a brand and design strategist who has worked in the bike industry.

But what if IKEA had continued to experiment in the transport industry?

Designing the car of the future

What would be the effect of a car, similar to the SLADDA bike, entering the marketplace? What if IKEA released a standard model car, where users can customise it with add-ons of their choosing but the main structure of the car remained simple?

It would allow for easy servicing, that’s for sure.

The days of waiting weeks for the specific part needed to fix your exact model of car would be gone. In fact, you may be able to fix it yourself.

According to the AA’s patrolman of the year, Keith Miller: “The fundamentals of looking after an internal combustion engine haven’t changed over the years, so it’s actually a bit of a myth that you can’t service a modern car yourself,” he says.

“I think it’s a generational thing. Younger people are used to having obsolescence built into things. They use something until it breaks and then throw it away and buy a newer, better version. Servicing something is alien to them.”

Once a staple sight on dashboards across the world, the Haynes manual became the cornerstone of DIY repairs. Haynes manuals contained simple to understand diagrams and instructions aimed at helping readers understand their car and conduct simple repairs and services. However, in 2016, Haynes announced it intended to close its US and Swedish bases and axe multiple jobs due to falling demand for print manuals.

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IKEA’s instruction guides revolutionised furniture assembly by making it accessible to the masses. These guides share more than just a passing resemblance with the Haynes manual. The simple, exploded views of the inner workings and easy to follow instructions come straight from the pages of the Haynes manuals of old.

What if the instruction manuals for servicing a car were just as simple and straightforward as building a table?

IKEA is one of many major firms which are considering 3D printing replacement parts as a way to increase customer satisfaction. IKEA wants to use 3D printing technologies to print replacement parts, which will allow customers to use their furniture longer. The idea is to give consumers more utility out of their products as well as to reduce the waste of throwing out furniture as a result of one part being broken. 

Additionally, IKEA is looking to develop 3D printed attachments to enhance the functionality of their products. The hope is that when a customer becomes tired of their old furniture, they can buy attachments that ultimately repurpose their furniture, therefore creating value that will make them want to keep it a while longer. The hope would be that this could easily translate into the car world with customers and garages being able to print replacement parts to easily fix the cars themselves or customise it as they see fit.

IKEA might be staying out of the transport industry for the time being as they reflect on the SLADDA project. However, a lot of the thinking that went into the design of the SLADDA combined with the areas in which they are investing in and exploring at the moment would perhaps go some way to ending the struggles which have manifested in recent years and finally put the key back into the hands of the customer.

Fraser Smith