You can tell a lot about a cultural moment from its cars. The postwar suburbs had station wagons. The 1960s Mustangs were made to appeal to the young. The 1980s minivan was for soccer moms who scurried from work to pick up children for after-school activities.
This pandemic era is no exception. For many people, driving has been largely sidelined by work-from-home orders, closed schools, and canceled activities, but a substantial number of us now crawl inside our vehicles to do some work — sneaking out in the afternoon to take a phone call or work on a project safe from the screams of children or the complaints of a cranky spouse.
The folks at Nissan have noticed. Hence the NV350 Caravan Office Pod concept, unveiled this winter at the virtual 2021 Tokyo Auto Salon. The prototype vehicle has a workspace big enough for a desktop computer with a large screen and a Herman Miller office chair that Motor Trend Magazine calls “delightfully over complicated.” The van has a coffee machine and a roof deck complete with an umbrella for lounging in the shade. The workspace can slide out of the back for working al fresco.
And to prove the car is in step with the times, the glove compartment has an ultraviolet antibacterial light to sanitize your phone.
Promotional videos for the van suggest that it could be parked anywhere, allowing the owner to work from the most luxurious and remote spots. But it’s also possible to imagine parking it next to a typical old office building. Given the limited capacity of some offices due to long-lasting COVID concerns, an office car with a desk and a computer in the parking lot may turn out to be the ultimate “hot desk” — close enough to get things done, but not so close to be contagious.
If the hashtag #vanlife took off after remote workers found it possible to travel and work from anywhere, this concept may add a new hashtag to the conversation: #workfromvanlife.
Nancy A. Nichols, a former senior editor at Harvard Business Review, is working on a history of women and cars to be published in 2023.