The concept of being driven is not a new one. For more than a century people have been driven around, from commuting in taxis to enjoying indulgent relaxation in the back of a Rolls-Royce or a Bentley. Those who are used to the chauffeur lifestyle must be wondering what all the fuss is when it comes to the idea of autonomous cars.
Whether you are a passionate driver who relishes the thrill of changing gears in a sports car on a mountain pass, or someone who just prefers to be in control, the fact is we are going to be able to hand more control over to our cars in the future.
There have been lots of concepts over the years, but now more than ever, car companies and their designers are looking seriously at how we will travel in self-driving vehicles. Will they be purely functional, or will they be spaces to live, work and even sleep in?
It’s all about a change to vehicles as mobility solutions, says Pierre Leclercq, head of design at French manufacturer Citroën. He said the concept of mobility means it’s no longer just about cars and car design, but about product design, even thinking like architects.
“With autonomous driving technology, I expect we will re-invent completely what you can do on wheels or why you travel,” he says. “Like working from home today, we’re basically going to be giving time to people that they were losing before — and not having fun — driving.”
One thing the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us is that we can take back our time. For many, working remotely has given us the chance to spend more time with family, and spend less time stuck in traffic getting to work or meetings. Autonomous cars will help give us back some of our time, but not necessarily by relaxing in the cars themselves.
“The ultimate luxury is not a luxurious, first-class seat combination, the ultimate luxury is not having to go, having a vehicle that does something for you,” says John Rich, chief engineer for autonomous vehicles at Ford in the US. He says that while many designers are creating the living room on wheels, the fact is that autonomous cars could be about not having to travel at all but rather putting the kids in an autonomous car to take them to school, or having your new clothes brought to your house by a pod.
That’s not to say the luxury carmakers aren’t looking into how they will be providing the most luxurious experience for their customers who want to be chauffeured to the office or the theatre.
The Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100 concept conveys a sanctuary for wealthy owners to travel in style. Simple and elegant, as you would expect, the interior contains the best quality materials matched to the latest technology discreetly integrated into the design.
Volvo is also a manufacturer taking the elegant route when it comes to design and materials. Latest models, such as the S90 and XC90, place it firmly in the premium category but its 360C concept takes things another step forward. Its interior can be an office, a lounge or even a flatbed so the car can take you to a long-distance destination in comfort without having to endure all those airport procedures.
Fully autonomous vehicles might still be a decade away or more, but designers and engineers are already looking at ways to blend luxury with quality time — and for many, that really will be the ultimate luxury.