The car of the future has many faces. No-one knows this better than Lutz Fügener. For 13 years he has been Professor of Transportation Design at Pforzheim University, where he is closely involved with the design, capabilities and limits of the automobile. His course of study, which is unique in Germany, is mentioned in the same breath as the corresponding courses at the Art Center of Design in Pasadena, California, and the Royal College of Arts in London. Recently he and his students considered the car of the future with the German weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT.
Charlotte Malz: Mister Fügener, how did you come to collaborate with DIE ZEIT?
Lutz Fügener: Car-related themes are generally not successful in DIE ZEIT and therefore get little column space in the paper. Nevertheless, almost all ZEIT readers drive a car. I thought this contradiction was interesting. What is the reason for it? How do they use cars? What is it about car topics that doesn’t suit them? What are their proposals for improvement and their ideas? We wanted to find out along with the editorial team what moves the ZEIT readership when it comes to mobility.
How did you tackle this?
Fügener: Together we developed a complex questionnaire with 40 questions. It focused on readers’ feelings and assessments in relation to the classic automobile. What does it lack? How would it have to be designed in order to change their lives and make them easier? What would a car be like that is fun and socially acceptable at the same time? So we never simply asked questions directly about the product, but always about its application and use. After 5300 responses – many more than expected – we closed the questioning and started the evaluation.
What was especially surprising to you about the answers?
Fügener: The survey data were first of all evaluated statistically in a workshop report by DIE ZEIT. Exciting results emerged from this. For example, we asked whether readers support a speed limit on highways – 65 per cent were in favor. The question of what the top speed should be in their car of the future got the answer of 184 km/hr. on average. This means that a speed limit of around 185 km/hr is considered to be appropriate – one of many interesting contradictions. The participants were extremely heterogeneous: from someone who absolutely rejects automobiles and only travels by recumbent bike, to the owner of a Bugatti Veyron. The questionnaire answers varied accordingly. They included some out-of-the-ordinary ideas and suggestions. One woman wrote that she wished the car of the future to fit inside her handbag.
Is it possible to derive any practical ideas from wishes like this?
Fügener: We translated the wish for a “car in the handbag” as the question of car sharing or parking systems that ensure that a car is always available within a minute – that is in the time that we need to get it “out of the bag.” Car sharing is altogether an important subject, because more than half of the respondents can imagine sharing a car. The answers also showed that there is a widespread wish to have a transformable vehicle that can change its size and features of use. A car that needs hardly any parking space when it is not in use is a further point that was mentioned again and again, and also the wish to have a car that drives itself. Additionally we learned that people like to drive a car, that they like the automobile in its present shape very much and attribute a high aesthetic value to it. This represents the biggest challenge for us: the question of what could evolve from today’s car. These five trends – car sharing, the modular car, autonomous driving, the space-saving car and the evolution of the classic automobile – were the basis for our students’ designs. Three students devoted themselves to each theme and produced designs, some of them close to series models and some of them visionary.
Which designs could be put into practice soon?
Fügener: What occurs to me spontaneously is the design called “Dividuum,” a vehicle that can be divided in the middle. It consists of two vehicles that are connected, back to back. The subject for the design was car sharing, freely interpreted by the students: a large family car that can be divided and produces two small cars. This proposal reflects the problem that both partners in a marriage need a car in order to get to work. But many would prefer to have a big car that they can also use to go on vacation.
Technically it would not be a big problem to implement the design. Whether it would be financially worthwhile is a different question.
What future trends will car makers definitely have to consider in the coming years?
Fügener: The industry has no alternative to tackling the issue of energy consumption – whether this is about gasoline, diesel, electricity or hydrogen. To do this, manufacturers have to reduce the weight of the vehicles. If they ensure that cars are no longer able to crash, they can save a lot of material that is used for passive safety today – crumple zones, side elements etc. This would make cars 300 to 400 kg lighter on average. There will also be more intervention in the driving process – the key word here is autonomous driving. The aim is a vehicle that helps us to drive and increasingly controls the process of driving. This has to do with increasing traffic, but also with an ageing society. Today for the first time we have an entirely motorized generation in retirement. It is not unusual for senior citizens to lose their private mobility overnight, as they can no longer drive or are not permitted to drive. The problem can be reduced by cars that support the driver. Things that are convenient for older persons are also practical for mothers.
Emission-free driving will be focused more and more as well. China is struggling with enormous air pollution in many places. Automobiles there can be banned from cities from one day to the next. Car makers then need to have the right product ready. Another issue relates to the interfaces between public transportation and private passenger traffic. Today the interface of rail to car is, at best, a parking garage at the train station. That’s pathetic, it’s the opposite of a seamless transition. There is a lack of initiatives in this field!
Photo © Daniel Frintz & HS Pforzheim / Transportation Design
Photo © Katharina Sachs & HS Pforzheim / Transportation Design