RUMOUR HAS IT...
Volvo takes on the airlines
BMW's chatty car, a SUV Mustang and a coupe from Porsche
Imagine a world in which you travel longer distances without the need for airports. A world in which you can avoid airport security, lengthy queuing and waiting, and noisy, cramped planes. What if, instead, you could take your own first-class private cabin that picks you up at home and takes you from door to door?
This is a vision for the future of autonomous travel that Volvo Cars has imagined with its new 360c concept car, as an alternative to short-haul air travel.
The Swedish car maker proposes that its fully autonomous, fully electric car without a human driver would be a more comfortable — and quicker — way of covering medium distances of about 300km than flying.
Because the self-driving electric car won’t need a steering wheel or a combustion engine, it provides the ability to reimagine the traditional placement of passengers in rows of two or three. The interior can be set up as a comfortable and roomy lounge for use as a mobile office, living room, sleeping environment or entertainment space.
Volvo envisions this as an alternative to distances of about 300km, for instance from OR Tambo International to Nelspruit airport, where travelling by air could be more time consuming than by car when including things such as travel to the airport, security checks and waiting times.
"Domestic air travel sounds great when you buy your ticket, but it really isn’t. The 360c represents what could be a whole new take on the industry," said Mårten Levenstam, senior vice-president of corporate strategy at Volvo Cars.
"The sleeping cabin allows you to enjoy premium comfort and peaceful travel through the night and wake up refreshed at your destination. It could enable us to compete with the world’s leading aircraft makers."
Volvo says the 360c driving office makes it viable for people to live at greater distances from crowded cities and use their time both in a more pleasant and more effective way.
"The 360c explores what becomes possible when we remove the human driver, using new freedoms in design and recapturing time — it’s a glimpse at how autonomous drive technology will change the world as we know it. The possibilities are mind-boggling.
"When the Wright brothers took to the skies in 1903, they did not have a clue about what modern air travel would look like," said Levenstam. "We do not know what the future of autonomous drive will hold, but it will have a profound impact on how people travel, how we design our cities and how we use infrastructure.
"We regard the 360c as a conversation starter, with more ideas and answers to come as we learn more."
The day of talking to your car just like Michael Knight did with KITT (if you’re old enough to remember the 1980s Knight Rider TV series) is drawing nearer. BMW is the latest car maker to introduce an onboard virtual assistant in its cars, which allows drivers and passengers to access a range of vehicle functions simply by speaking.
Voice-controlled functions in cars are nothing new, but the new BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant recognises natural spoken language rather than a set of fixed commands.
From March 2019, BMW drivers and passengers will be able to say "Hey BMW" to awaken the Intelligent Personal Assistant, much like the "OK Google" command on Android devices and the "Hey Mercedes" feature available in cars made by Beemer’s rival in Stuttgart.
You’ll be able to say "I’m cold" and the artificial intelligence (AI) assistant will adjust the temperature inside the car. Or say "take me home" to get the navigation system to start guiding you to your front gate, or "Hey BMW, look for the nearest fuel station". The AI learns the driver’s routines and habits and is able to apply them in the appropriate context.
It’s able to explain all sorts of functions ("How does the High Beam Assistant work?"), provide current vehicle status information ("Is the oil level okay?") and help answer questions ("What warning messages do I have?").
It knows the driver’s favourite settings and can even activate a combination of them. For instance, "Hey BMW, I feel tired" triggers a programme that adjusts the interior lighting, music and temperature, among other things, in order to make the driver feel more awake.
One unique feature over other digital assistants is that Beemer’s one can be given a name to lend "him" even greater individuality and personality. Not only is he there awaiting the driver’s every command, he is also able to provide casual conversation ("Hey BMW, what’s the meaning of life?").
The assistant’s integration with Microsoft Office and Skype for Business transforms the car into a mobile office and allows the driver to join teleconferences or have their e-mails read out to them.
The digital buddy is an entertainment expert and can instantly identify the song playing on the radio or search stations for the desired type of music ("Play hard rock please").
In future the assistant will be able to give fuel-saving driving tips or alert the driver to problems ("Tyre pressure is low") or even arrange an appointment.
Mustang SUV to go on sale in 2020
Really, a Ford Mustang offroader? A couple of years ago one might have scoffed at such an idea, and the fact that it will also be electrically powered might have had purists tearing their robes.
But now that we’re in a world where even Rolls-Royce and Bentley build SUVs, and even Porsche is building an electric car, basically anything goes.
A Mustang-inspired crossover has been rumoured for some time, but last week Ford finally confirmed that such a vehicle will go on sale in 2020.
It released a rear teaser picture that shows a clear resemblance to the brand’s iconic pony car. Technical details on Ford’s yet-unnamed kerb hopper are slim, but Ford is aiming for a 480km range per battery charge.
Porsche Cayenne coupe on the cards
It’s been confirmed that Porsche will introduce a coupe version of its Cayenne after the vehicle was spotted undergoing testing at the Nurburgring in Germany.
The vehicle, which is set to go on sale at the end of 2019, will compete against rivals like the BMW X6 — which invented the SUV coupe niche — and the Mercedes GLE coupe.
When BMW first came up with the SUV coupe concept it was met with more than a little derision from some quarters, but buyers have taken to the new segment in considerable numbers and now more carmakers are getting in on the act.
The current Cayenne line-up is relatively limited because there’s just one body style with a choice of petrol and hybrid powerplants. The coupe version will expand the offering and, considering the appeal of the Porsche brand, this is a model that’s likely to be in considerable demand.
Images of prototypes being put through their paces at the Nurburgring published by autoevolution.com show the new model inherits the same front-end styling as the third-generation Cayenne, apart from a front bumper that appears to be a unique design to help differentiate the coupe from the rest of the Cayenne range.
This new variant adopts a suitably more sporty overall style with a liftback-style tailgate, a new tail light design and new side windows to accommodate the sloping roofline. A retractable rear spoiler is another unique design cue as it seems to be a single piece instead of the split wing design we see already with the second-generation of the Panamera.
In keeping with its sporty styling, the Cayenne coupe will be a genuine performance model. Under the hood will be a choice of a 324kW twin-turbo 2.9l V6 and a 4.0l V8 twin-turbo with 404kW.