When the Rolls-Royce 103EX arrives on the scene, the road becomes a catwalk and the sidewalk the stage. A gull-wing door flips upward, a small staircase to the ground slides into position and LED lights roll a red carpet right over the asphalt.
"Cars don’t get much more eye-catching than this," says Giles Taylor, director of design at Rolls-Royce. This spectacle is part of a concept car that aims to present a vision of the luxury limousine of the tomorrow.
Taylor unveiled the 103EX concept not only to commemorate the 100th birthday of the British automaker’s parent company, BMW, but also as an exercise in imagining the future of the ultimate luxury class of vehicles.
Of course, the development of this particular sector can’t be separated from profound, ongoing changes in the automotive sector – even if CO2 emissions don’t play an important role in the boutique production lines of Bentley, Rolls-Royce and similar.
"If they hope to have a future, these brands have to reinvent themselves," says Cologne-based automotive critic Paolo Tumminelli.
"The old reference points of luxury and performance don’t make the same difference as they used to."
Automotive economist Stefan Bratzel agrees: "It’s no longer showing off what the car cost that will matter, but what the car does," says Bratzel. "In the future, automotive luxury will be defined less by hardware, and more by soft factors."
For Tumminelli, the fastest and fanciest cars won’t automatically have the greatest prestige. Perhaps the smartest ones will stand out.
"In the future, the goal will still be to attract attention, stand out and show you live on a higher plane," he notes with a nod to designs like the Rolls-Royce 103EX or the 6-metre-long Maybach 6 luxury coupe which was unveiled in August.
"But these extremes are examples of utter design decadence," with size and splendour becoming the status symbols of yesterday. "In the future," says Tumminelli, "distinctions between vehicle classes will be based on a different set of values, including the smart application of technology."
"One of these key values could prove to be time," says Bentley’s design chief Stefan Sielaff. He contends time is short, becoming an ever more precious commodity in increasingly hectic times.
Today’s developers envision that time can be saved not only by having exclusive lanes for exclusive cars, but above all through technological features, from intelligent assistance systems to autopilots.
"This way, the time that once felt like it was being wasted in traffic is now seen as being gained," says Mercedes head designer Thomas Weber.
He also notes that drivers of Mercedes’ autonomous F 015 concept won’t have to sit behind the steering wheel all the time, and will even be able to turn to face other passengers.
In these kinds of concept cars, just as with the Rolls-Royce 103EX or in Sielaff’s "The Future of Luxury" artistic rendering, the overall aesthetic is more reminiscent of a lounge or a first-class train compartment than a traditional car interior.
Rolls-Royce and Bentley have gone a step further and have omitted not only the steering wheel and the pedals in their designs, but also the whole cockpit, including the driver’s seat.
"For the owners of a Phantom, this is not a big adjustment," says Taylor. "After all, most Rolls-Royce customers are used to being chauffeured." The difference is that now, they can extend their legs further and enjoy an unimpeded view.
Wagener does not go quite so far, at least with the Maybach 6.
In the autonomous F 015 concept, the steering wheel can be folded away, whereas with the luxury Maybach, the seating arrangement is rigid and the cockpit remains a firm invitation to keep the rudder in hand.
"Later on, if the average Joe is sitting in autonomous shuttles or being chauffeured around by driverless limousines, then the true luxury will be the chance to drive oneself." (DPA)