What to Know
Car brands and parts suppliers are already preparing for driving's autonomous future by redesigning the insides of cars
The latest concept car from interior parts maker Yanfeng is a shared autonomous vehicle like those Uber and Lyft will operate
Others including Hyundai showed off concept cars that convert into offices or gyms while on the move
You step outside to the curb and summon a ride with an app on your phone — but in the self-driving future envisioned by Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, that's where the familiar part ends.
"Even before it arrives, it's already cleaning itself," Yanfeng VP Tim Shih explained as we approached a full-sized vehicle simulator the size of an SUV, with a purple beam of light crawling across the dashboard. "It's slowly sweeping that front surface — that's our UV sanitation."
From the anti-germ measures to the odor-killing ventilation system, the XIM-20 — Yanfeng's latest concept car — is built from the wheels up to be a shared electric vehicle that needs no human driver to steer it or clean it.
Yanfeng Automotive Interiors’ latest concept car reimagines what an Uber or Lyft vehicle will look like once it can drive itself. Passengers can choose between a bright, windowed front seat and a cozy, private back seat.
"You notice there's no instrument panel, there's no floor console, door panels as we typically know them are also not there," Shih said.
Instead, a clean bamboo surface sweeps across the front of the vehicle, with disappearing touch controls and illuminated outlines where a motorized cup holder and phone charging pocket can appear when needed. A domed windshield lets in the daylight in front, while the windowless back seat remains a cocoon of privacy. Shih calls the two areas the "exposure zone" and the "enclosure zone."
"if you go out to a restaurant, for example, you can have the privacy of the booth inside — maybe it's a date," he said. "Or you're with friends, you want to sit outside, have the openness to the outdoors, especially when the weather's nice."
At CES 2019, Hyundai showed off this concept for a car interior that allows humans to drive in style... or put away the steering wheel and relax while the car does the work.
Yanfeng, headquartered in Shanghai, is just one of the companies focused on redesigning the inside of tomorrow's vehicles, while other companies like Waymo and Zoox focus on making them drive autonomously. At CES in Las Vegas, a division of Hyundai called Mobis showed of a different interior concept — one for a personally-owned vehicle used to commute to work.
The Mobis concept car transforms using motorized seats and smart glass from a "relaxation mode" with blacked-out windows, a giant movie screen and reclining seats, to an "office mode," with a small desk, and finally to "drive mode" in which a steering wheel pops out of the front console.
Across the CES show floor, another Hyundai exhibit showed off a car with rowing machines built into the dash, turning the sluggish morning commute into prime workout time.
At CES 2019, an entire convention hall devoted to vehicle technology included a slew of concept designs for cars and buses that could exist in an age when human drivers aren’t necessary.
Shih acknowledges these vehicles are a long way off: State and Federal laws still require passenger cars to have such mundane features as steering wheels, pedals and side windows you can see out of.
"We hope that by showcasing the possibilities of an autonomous future, we can help to accelerate the progression," he said.