Car designers speak out against boring self-driving cars
IT'S the future all car enthusiasts fear: a brave new world where featureless vanilla pods transport disconnected passengers in silence along predetermined routes.
As car companies increasingly look to shore up profitability amid an uncertain future, fun cars appear to be an endangered species. The ranks of sports cars and convertibles have thinned in recent years as car makers chase dollars over daring designs.
But despair not petrol heads, there's still room for beautiful cars.
At this week's Paris motor show, Peugeot injected some much-needed passion into proceedings with the E-Legend, a concept car that shows electrification and autonomous driving can go hand-in-hand with driving enjoyment and classic design cues.
Peugeot designer Gilles Vidal says the E-Legend offers hope for the future of automotive design.
"The idea is to demonstrate that the future doesn't need to be especially boring … but can be very emotional, positive and interesting and can even take the shape of a vintage, homage car.
"In the end we need to remember that humans are emotional animals and people will want interesting experiences in their lives," he says.
That applies to the car of the future, even if it doesn't have a steering wheel.
"Those cars can be exciting aesthetically pleasing objects. They don't have to be white neutral little pods with robotic dynamic behaviour. That would be sad.
"Since those objects will be big and visible in the city or the countryside, they need to be beautiful. There is no reason why they should be ugly or even neutral," he says.
Kia designer Gregory Guillaume, who led the European design centre responsible for the Kia Stinger sports sedan, agrees.
He says electric, autonomous vehicles don't necessarily have to look too different to conventional cars.
"It really depends if the customer wants to stand out and make the statement that he is driving something different," he says.
Electric cars provide potential for changes to interior design in particular, but Guillaume doesn't believe the exterior design will change drastically.
"I see more right now as an opportunity for us to do a few things differently that we might not have been able to do with an internal combustion engine in front," he says.
Vidal points to the Tesla range as proof that electrification and autonomy won't drive radical change to car design.
"They designed a conventional car and I think they did it on purpose because everything else was scary and alternative. It was so different they needed to provide some reassurance," he says.
He believes there will be greater variety on the road, with classic designs alongside alien, science-fiction inspired shapes.
"Everything will coexist in the future. The diversity of shapes and concepts and design philosophies. There will be an amazing diversity that the automotive industry has not seen in all of its 130 years," he says.
Guillaume says the end goal of a car designer will remain the same.
"When we design a car we want to create emotions and provoke reactions," he says.
That passion won't be diminished by new technology.
"What I hope is that in the future we can still all be passionate about cars. Whatever comes, whether it is autonomous driving or electrification … I hope that in 20 years' time I hope our kids are just as passionate about cars and when they see a good looking car in the street it makes their heart beat a little bit faster.
"I hear a lot of things, that people don't like cars, people just want to be in a box and driven around, I don't believe it," he says.