With self-driv­ing cars on the cusp of com­mer­cial re­al­ity, Adam Hay-Ni­cholls as­sesses the trends and in­no­va­tions set to change the way we drive

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Adam Hay-Ni­cholls takes a peek around the corner at the ve­hi­cle trends and in­no­va­tions set to change the way we drive

Rolls-Royce has strived to build the world’s finest lux­ury cars for more than a cen­tury, and a key in­gre­di­ent—in ad­di­tion to a dozen bull hides per car to kit out the in­te­ri­ors—is tech­nol­ogy. Co-founder Henry Royce once said, “Take the best that ex­ists and make it bet­ter. When it does not ex­ist, de­sign it.” One of the fa­bled mar­que’s’ rock star cus­tomers, Frank Zappa, per­haps put it bet­ter: “With­out de­vi­a­tion from the norm, progress is not pos­si­ble.”

With its Vi­sion Next 100 con­cept, co­de­named 103EX, Rolls re­veals what it ex­pects to see on stately grav­elled drive­ways 100 years into the future. While some fea­tures are pure Rolls, such as an LED-pro­jected red car­pet that greets you as you ap­proach the car and a HAL-style vir­tual but­ler by the name of Eleanor, oth­ers are just a few years away from main­stream ve­hi­cles.

Take ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and au­ton­o­mous pi­lotage. Google is test­ing hun­dreds of its Waymo self-driv­ing cars in the US right now. Tesla is work­ing on an au­ton­o­mous car Elon Musk says he’ll un­veil next year. Sil­i­con Val­ley has been the epi­cen­tre of the race to de­velop this tech­nol­ogy, but the more es­tab­lished brands in mo­tor­ing could yet over­take them. Audi, Toy­ota and GM each in­tend to in­tro­duce a self-driv­ing car in 2020. Ford and BMW will fol­low in 2021. These are just the car com­pa­nies that have re­vealed a time­line; all the big man­u­fac­tur­ers are work­ing on it.

Ap­ple’s hotly an­tic­i­pated iCar ap­pears to be in a state of flux and will prob­a­bly be late to the party. Start-up Nu­Ton­omy plans to pro­vide self-driv­ing taxis in Sin­ga­pore as soon as next year (it’s al­ready tri­alling them), ex­pand­ing to 10 cities by 2020. It may take some coun­tries a while to grap­ple with reg­u­la­tory ap­proval, but the in­dus­try forecast is that driver­less cars will be com­mon­place world­wide by 2025.

The sci-fi fan­tasy of fly­ing cars could be a re­al­ity within a decade. Uber is col­lab­o­rat­ing with five aero­space com­pa­nies to demon­strate a fly­ing taxi ser­vice in Dubai and Dal­las in 2020, with a full-scale roll-out in 2023. Air­bus is de­vel­op­ing a fly­ing car con­cept called Pop. Up, which was un­veiled at this year’s Geneva Motor Show. Its car­bon-fi­bre pod, roughly the size of a Smart car, can sit on a four-wheeled chas­sis with an elec­tric pow­er­train or con­nect a quad­copter to its roof. You tap in the des­ti­na­tion and it will drive or fly you there. The plan is to have a work­ing pro­to­type in 12 months, though it faces a raft of reg­u­la­tory headaches. If gov­ern­ments green-light it, we could be com­mut­ing in the clouds by 2027.

As well as motor shows, car jour­nal­ists now flock to the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Las Ve­gas to see what’s headed their way. The tech­nol­ogy to ac­cess and start your car with a finger­print or retina-scan is al­ready out there. Com­ing soon: Ac­tive health mon­i­tor­ing, where your car will pull over if you fall ill, and in-car advertising with per­son­alised mes­sages flash­ing up on your dash­board (which sounds an­noy­ing and dan­ger­ous). Heads-up speed dis­plays have been around for 20 years but soon nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems may use the whole wind­screen.

With cli­mate change and fuel costs of con­cern, there has been a grad­ual shift to smaller ca­pac­ity turbo en­gines, and hy­brid and fully elec­tric pow­er­trains. In 1997, Toy­ota be­came the first com­pany to mass pro­duce a hy­brid-elec­tric ve­hi­cle with its Prius. Ten years later, Tesla came on the scene with an all-elec­tric sports car. Now the en­tire in­dus­try is moving to­wards elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, in­clud­ing the high-per­for­mance mar­ques. Four years ago, Ferrari launched the La­Fer­rari hy­per­car, which uses a 161hp elec­tric motor in com­bi­na­tion with its 789hp V12 engine, and CEO Ser­gio Mar­chionne has said all new Fer­raris will be hy­brid from 2019. The La­Fer­rari was cre­ated at the same time that rules were in­tro­duced re­quir­ing all For­mula One cars to use high-tech en­ergy re­cov­ery sys­tems.

The fledg­ling For­mula E world cham­pi­onship, in which driv­ers do bat­tle in elec­tric sin­gle-seaters, has seen man­u­fac­tur­ers en­ter­ing teams, in­clud­ing Re­nault, Audi and Jaguar. They’re try­ing to turn petrol­heads into elec­tro heads, mar­ket­ing elec­tric per­for­mance as ma­cho as they speed up R&D. Jaguar, for ex­am­ple, is bring­ing its I-Pace EV to pro­duc­tion next year and For­mula E is be­ing used as part soft­ware test-bed and part mar­ket­ing plat­form.

Many cars al­ready come with a park-as­sist func­tion, but soon we will see au­to­mated valet park­ing. Ar­rive at the Four Sea­sons, get out, and your car will go and find it­self a park­ing spot by com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the ho­tel’s high-tech garage. Volvo is tri­alling a road haz­ard alert sys­tem. If you come across, say, ice or a rein­deer on the road, your ve­hi­cle will beam a mes­sage to the cloud which will then alert driv­ers in the vicin­ity.

Airbags, the big­gest safety ad­vance since the seat­belt, could soon help stop ac­ci­dents from

hap­pen­ing. Mercedes-Benz is ex­per­i­ment­ing with an un­der-car airbag with a fric­tion coat­ing that, if the car senses you’re about to crash, will in­flate, lift­ing the wheels off the ground and halv­ing the car’s emergency stop­ping dis­tance.

3D print­ing is al­ready cut­ting costs and democratis­ing per­son­al­i­sa­tion, and vir­tual re­al­ity is set to play a role in the be­spoke de­sign process that’s cap­ti­vated the whole lux­ury in­dus­try. Lapo Elkann of the Fiat-own­ing Agnelli dy­nasty, who helped es­tab­lish Ferrari’s Tai­lor Made depart­ment, has set up his own ate­lier, Garage Italia Cus­toms, which cre­ates artis­tic vinyl wraps and be­spoke styling and ac­ces­sories for those who like to stand out. Lapo, who drives a cam­ou­flage Ferrari 458 Italia, has over­seen cus­tom de­sign di­rec­tion for yachts and pri­vate jets, but his com­pany’s bread-and-but­ter re­mains au­to­mo­biles and mo­tor­cy­cles. Want a Fiat 500 that matches your lip­stick? Lapo’s your man.

A client can ap­proach Garage Italia or, for that mat­ter, the be­spoke crafts­men em­ployed in-house by a grow­ing num­ber of premium man­u­fac­tur­ers, and in­vent their own artis­tic ex­pres­sion. “I think it’s a clear trend where those with the means want to pos­sess some­thing which re­ally tells a story, and not a story dic­tated by the man­u­fac­turer,” says Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös. “Your imag­i­na­tion is our limit.”

Elkann puts the cult or be­spoke down to a col­lec­tive frus­tra­tion at the stan­dard­i­s­a­tion of most things we come across. “Ev­ery­one wants to show their per­sonal style, start­ing with their smart­phone cover all the way up to a pri­vate jet or yacht. We’re putting the client’s re­quire­ments back in the spot­light. Lux­ury with­out unique­ness loses most of its value.”

This is where, in the future, de­sign­ers of the most ex­pen­sive au­to­mo­biles may stray away from the dis­rupters in Palo Alto, Cu­per­tino and Moun­tain View, who are calling the de­vel­op­men­tal shots at the mo­ment. “The future pre­sented in 103EX is ac­tu­ally the an­tithe­sis of Sil­i­con Val­ley’s vi­sion of au­ton­o­mous cars,” warns MüllerÖtvös. “Rolls-Royce’s cus­tomers seek deeply per­sonal ob­jects. We will there­fore serve these in­di­vid­u­als with a per­fectly ex­e­cuted al­ter­na­tive to the anony­mous and util­i­tar­ian future proposed by Sil­i­con Val­ley. Our cus­tomers … will never sac­ri­fice ex­pe­ri­ence, per­for­mance and lux­ury at the hands of tech­no­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion.”

This, surely, is a “de­vi­a­tion from the norm” of which Zappa would have ap­proved.

SMART EVO­LU­TION This page: Be­spoke fit­tings on the Roll­sRoyce 103EX in­clude per­son­alised leather valises; Op­po­site page from top: Jaguar is bring­ing its I-Pace EV to pro­duc­tion next year; From 2019, Ferrari will only pro­duce hy­brid cars, like this...

PARK N Fly The Air­bus Pop.Up comes with a four-wheeled chas­sis and a con­nectible quad­copter to ei­ther drive or fly pas­sen­gers where they need to go

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