Autonomy in Luxury Cars Won’t Change Their Role, Says Infiniti

Car design is changing radically and the two main drivers leading that change are the transition to zero emission powertrains and autonomous technology.

That’s why both of these drivers took center stage at Infiniti’s stand in the North American International Auto Show 2019 in the shape of the carmaker’s latest luxury concept the QX Inspiration. While I say ‘drivers’, embarrassingly a technical glitch prevented the concept actually driving onto the stage at Detroit. Aside from the passing comedy of the moment, the vehicle still caused something of a stir for being one of the few new-age concepts to boast the use of marble in its lounge-like cabin. Another feature on the entirely electric SUV concept involved digital cameras replacing the tradition wing and rearview mirrors which, for the moment at least, are illegal in countries such as the US but then so is hands-off autonomy for the average owner.

TU-Automotive caught up with the concept’s creator, Karim Habib, Infiniti executive design director, to see how future vehicle designers will approach the challenges of autonomous technology. Naturally, Habib said the focus will be heavily on the vehicle’s interior in an era where the motorist will only be at the helm for some of the time in any particular journey.

He said: “The future autonomous vehicle cabin is less of a home-on-wheels than a personal-space-on-wheels. Home has connotations of something more passive but definitely a space that is very much your own that is not just a driving machine. It needs to remain that when you are driving but, when you’re not, we need to design things differently.

“There will be situations where you are not actively driving, whether assisted autonomy or full autonomy so I think it is really important that we consider this space differently.”

Traditional survivors

Many Silicon Valley opinions revolve around a shared mobility model predicting car ownership to disappear completely. Habib is far from convinced of this outcome and foresees a place for a variety of different vehicles to meet a multifaceted consumer need. He said: “It will still be necessary to have vehicles that can have a variety of different personalities, if you will, and technology makes that possible. Even today, at a small level, we have the Sport Mode the Comfort Mode and, with some of the cars you drive today, the changes can be quite dramatic.

“However, overall throughout the automotive industry, there will be a much clearer segmentation of vehicles. I’m pretty sure you will keep the world of ultra-mechanical cars that have nothing to do with autonomy.”

Habib admitted that for volume brands there is likely to be demand for shared mobility saying: “Let’s say a brand of mass produced vehicles, like Nissan for example, would create a robotic taxi for shared autonomy and that totally seems feasible. It might also be a question of time whereby you have a transition period where you will have cars that remain multipurpose or multi-personality and then, long term, there is more segmentation in the market.”

Yet, premium brands are much less likely to see their roles changing much beyond their current ability to tick several ability boxes on the luxury consumer’s checklist, said Habib. He concluded: “There are already examples of cars able to fulfill this role with very luxurious SUVs, like the QX80, with which people can tow their boats. I think that in terms of technology and in terms of accepted character, the market is totally ripe for that.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *