GREEN ’N GAMBOLLING
Cars are following nature’s footprint by using natural material and renewable energy. The other trend is automation— now cars are coming out of tight parking spots on their own
the big trend in high-end vehicles, as I had predicted last year, is electrification, and the first sprouts of that seed, sown a few years ago, are ready for everyone to see. Jaguar introduced the i-Pace this year at a very high-profile launch event, and the Audi e-tron as well as the Mercedes-Benz EQC are now ready to hit the road. The third of the BMW i models is also on its way while Tesla continues its success with Model 3. The Chinese market takes the lead in the use of electric vehicles even as more and more companies set increasingly aggressive targets for electrification of their fleets.
The focus now is to get as close to nature as possible. Whether it is the use of parts that can be recycled, green energy for production or natural material in the interiors—the trend of going back to nature is here to stay. Bentley and Rolls-Royce, perched at the peak of the luxury pyramid, have long used natural surfaces and materials in their cars. Volvo cars take inspiration from driftwood for their new trims while Maserati uses silk for door panels and other inlays. Jaguar uses a wool blend fabric for its high-end interiors, in case leather steps on the toes of sensibilities, while Rolls-Royce uses bamboo. The looks are all sourced from, and inspired by, nature. The power BMW uses to make i cars is fully derived from renewable sources and it also provides solar charging stations for its electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).
The other trend is automation. While the ultimate goal of driverless cars has been hard to realise with the ethical and legal wrangles and requirements varying from country to country—and even from state to state in some countries—cars are increasingly doing a lot of things by themselves. Volvo’s Auto Pilot comes with traffic jam assist— the driver is free to finish a quick shave or put on a last layer of make-up before that important meeting—without crashing. Mercedes cars, including the new C-class, not only keep to lanes but also follow the cars in front and can complete overtaking manoeuvres on their own.
The newest car I have driven has, in fact, taken automation to a new high. The new BMW X5 can reverse out of a tight or tricky parking spots or a dead-end in exactly the same way it was driven into, all on its own and for a distance of up to 50 metres. This is in addition to it driving straight into and back out of a very tight parking spot without anyone in the car, and only using its key which works like a remote control for a toy car. The luggage compartment cover can roll up by itself and stow itself under the boot floor. The boot has steel strips that help to slide suitcases into the boot; when the car is in motion, rubber strips move up to hold the cases in place.
Maybe the next wave of automation will include the car changing a wheel on its own.
The new BMW X5 (above) takes car automation to the next level. Mercedes-Benz has unveiled its first all-electric car, the EQC (opposite page), while the first all-electric car from a premium carmaker is the Jaguar i-Pace (bottom)