Imagine getting in your car for the daily commute and instead of stressing about traffic, you push the steering wheel aside, recline the driver’s seat and watch a movie, or catch up on email using an iPad in the dashboard.
This is the future of motoring that Swiss design firm Rinspeed envisions with its XchangE concept car set to debut at the Geneva Motor Show. Equipped with swiveling recliners, a wide screen television in the rear and an Italian espresso maker in the center console, the XchangE redefines life behind the wheel.
It is purely a hypothetical vehicle, and it hinges on the idea that at some point in the not-too-distant future, cars will be smart enough to drive themselves. With Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and others now in a race to start selling autonomously driving vehicles before the end of the decade (as discussed here), a car like the XchangeE isn’t far fetched.
The XchangeE is based on a Tesla Model S electric car. Rinspeed dressed up the exterior with special trim, but the interior is the true showpiece. It is patterned after a business-class cabin on a jetliner, with plush, reclining front seats that include folding foot rests.
The steering wheel slides out of the way so that the driver can kick back and read, conduct a video conference, or make an espresso. Front occupants can spin their seats around to face passengers in the back and create a lounge-like environment. Or, if the no one is in the rear of the car, the backrest folds down to expose a huge flatscreen.
The carefully chosen upholstery, coated Plexiglass roof with rainbow-hued reflections, and hundreds of light-emitting diodes in the headliner and dash create a soothing environment in which occupants can relax as the car calculates the best route based on realtime traffic and weather updates from cloud-based servers.
Although the Rinspeed XchangE is purely experimental, it was developed in partnership with real equipment manufacturers as a way to illustrate that its technology is indeed tangible. For example, TRW Automotive, a Michigan-based parts supplier, developed the steering wheel, which incorporates controls for the transmission and a drive-mode display. Georg Fischer Automotive created the sliding steering column and Harman the infotainment system. Even Deutsche Telekom was tapped to provide connectivity through its LTE network.
Zurich-based Rinspeed has a long history of innovation, some of it quirky—such as the Splash amphibious car—and some of it visionary, like the autonomous MicroMax people-mover, which debuted in Geneva last year.
The 2014 Geneva Motor Show is open to the public from March 6 to 16, following two press days.