Audi Exec: Autonomous Cars Will Disrupt Travel Industry

autonomous car

We all know that electric cars will disrupt the automobile industry. In fact, cars like the Tesla Model S have already done so. But few people realize that the synergy between electric cars and autonomous driving technology may disrupt the travel industry as well.

Sven Schuwirth, vice president of brand strategy and digital business at Audi, thinks that within 20 years, autonomous cars could radically alter how people travel. Let’s face it, air travel today is about as much fun as a colonoscopy. We stand in line, waiting to disrobe and be groped electronically by TSA minions, only to be squeezed into undersized seats with no leg room. For this, we pay exorbitant prices and receive almost no food or water during the journey. Who wouldn’t want to see that model disrupted?

“In the future you will not need a business hotel or a domestic flight,” Schuwirth tells Dezeen. “We can disrupt the entire business of domestic flights.” He adds, “I think that vision is probably 20 years from now.” Cars will increasingly resemble mobile apartments, he says, and service stations along highways will evolve to support them. He foresees roadside facilities that allow bathing, dining, and shopping. Hotels would change in response, Schuwirth adds, with drivers using their facilities but returning to their cars to sleep. “Why should a hotel look like a hotel today?” he said.

He predicts that car interiors will be able to morph between driving and sleeping modes — sort of like Rinspeed’s wild Tesla concept from a few years back.

“Today’s cars are shaped to be only an emotional piece and to be very comfortable and safe,” explains Schuwirth. “So, in an autonomous world, if cars do not have accidents any more, the cars do not have have a small amount of glass, a lot of metal, a lot of bumpers and all that stuff. It could be a bit more transparent. Once you decide you want to go for an autonomous drive, then something happens in your car, so your car transforms inside and the interior changes … there will be a steering wheel in case you decide you want to drive but you can get rid of the steering wheel and maybe the chairs somehow change so it’s not the standard sporty chair, it’s more like a sofa or a bed (another concept we’ve seen before). The entire space inside of the car will definitely look completely different.”

Schuwirth, though, is not the only one in the car business with an alternate view of reality. McLaren’s chief designer Robert Melville told Dezeen earlier this year that cars could soon adjust their geometry and functionality as they switch between urban and long-distance travel, while noted visionary Marshall McLuhan once proclaimed, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”

As we enter the age of autonomous driving, families may start driving to Disney World again, instead of flying — and maybe they’ll see cars like these in Tomorrowland! Tell us what you think of this alternative take on the future of travel in our comments section, below. Thanks!


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.