At Villa d’Este, on the banks of Lake Como, Italy, old money puts up with the nouveau riche in the same awkward way that Champagne cocks a snoop at Prosecco. It’s also where the world’s most jaw-droppingly beautiful, silly-money collector’s cars are shown at the annual Concorso d’Eleganza. Here, I had a chance to mingle with automotive historians and futurologists, and between them they confirmed some very’ big trends – like driverless cars.
I spoke to Adrian van Hooydonk, senior vice-president of BMW Group Design, and he should know more than most about automotive trends. First, I needed to get something off my chest. We all know BMWs are aspirational motorcars, meant to be driven like your hair’s on fire – so what’s the point of handing the fun over to a computer? Emboldened by a few glasses of Madame Pommery’s finest, I put it to him that self-drive cars were inherently boring. ‘Not at all,’ he counters. ‘It is both exciting and challenging to imagine how we will live and move around in the future How will we – society, the economy, living conditions and therefore mobility – change?
What possibilities will new technologies open up?’ he asks, as he set out his stall for the future vision of the car. BMW Group, fresh from celebrating its centenary last year, has turned its attention to the next 100 years with customary gusto. ‘
‘We have to think of how digitalisation and connectivity will affect our automotive needs and how new forms of mobility will open up countless more possibilities for people. In the future, every thing will be connected. We firmly believe that digitalisation and digital intelligence are meant to serve people,’ van Hooydonk says. ‘That is the only way they will permanently enhance our quality of life.’
So, will mobile connectivity’ save the car as we know it? Technologies are getting smarter. Innovations are only beneficial to humans if they are simple and user-friendly. Technologies must be able to learn from and adapt to people, so that it seems less technical and more human and familiar,’ he reassures.
All right then, but let’s go back to the question of driverless cars being boring. One car that will help you forgive the future for consistently pissing you off, is the BMW Vision Next 100. A cop per-coloured car of tomorrow – a sealed-wheel concept that’s as much DC Comics as it is a real car. It has theoretical options like Ease Mode, for comfort over intensity, and the Companion, a glowing ball of light that gives in formation to pedestrians when the car is in self-driving mode, telling them what the car is about to do before it does it.
Or, slap the Boost Mode button to become at one with the car so as to increase driving pleasure. It’s built around a core artificial intelligence system that can give you as much control as you want, at any given moment. Imagine being entirely in control when you want to hoon about, and then switching over for the Companion to take over when you run out of talent? Okay, so it won’t quite work like that, but you will be able to switch in and out of the levels of autonomy to suit your mood. Neat.
Ten years ago people thought that electric cars would never make it let alone autonomous cars. Having spent time in the BMW i3 and i8 recently, I can tell you that emission-free motoring (from renewablesources, in particular) will keep that smile firmly on your face. As a committed petrolhead, my ‘entirely rational’ fear of electric driverless cars ripping the joy out of high-octane frolics is taking a bit of a beating. Or perhaps it’s the Pommery whispering sweet bubbles to me.