The internal combustion engine will be a rarity.

It’s one thing to imagine the future of the car, but it’s another thing entirely to think about the luxury automotive experience 30-plus years down the road. With self-driving and electric vehicles on the horizon – a tad over the horizon – how will the luxury automotive experience change? Bentley, the Crewe-based automaker famous for automotive opulence, posed that question to Royal College of Art students, and the students returned some wild ideas. 

“Bentley has always been at the forefront of automotive luxury, and with this collaboration we asked millennial students for their vision of the future,” says Bentley’s Design Director Stefan Sielaff, an alumnus of the RCA’s renowned Automotive Design program. “We wanted ideas and concepts that could potentially lead us in new and interesting directions, using the perspective of these digital natives – from all over the world – to see things differently. These second-year students are the ones who will be designing the cars of the future – the taste makers in training, if you will. That’s why the results of the challenge are so exciting."

Bentley Future Cars

RCA lectures and members of Bentley’s design team picked four stand-out responses from a pool of 24. They were: “Luxury Soundscapes” by Irene Chiu, “Material Humanity” by Kate NamGoong, “Stratospheric Grand Touring” by Jack Watson, and “Elegant Autonomy” by Enuji Choi.

These are radical ideas for a future we can’t yet imagine; however, they don’t feel alien in concept and design. As EVs and self-driving cars are the future, our relationship with automobiles should change, too. Then again, for many, the car is a symbol of individuality and freedom – a representation of the person who owns it. 

Bentley Cars Of 2050

NamGoong’s concept is the most intriguing because it feels like it’s the possible future outcome. She suggests future luxury “will be the choice to occasionally drive yourself in an internal combustion vehicle when the rest of the world is fully autonomous and electric.” If internal combustion engines go the way of the Dodo, then they’ll become sought-after pieces of nostalgia for a rabid consumer base of wealthy socialites yearning for the sound of a V8 engine. It reminds me of horses and how they became a symbol for wealth and luxury after the automobile replaced them as vehicles. 

Bentley Cars Of 2050

Chiu’s design is all about bioacoustics that transforms the in-car experience in autonomous vehicles from one of stress to a place of relaxation, using sounds to influence the health, wellbeing, and travel experiences of passengers. Enuji's project is all about driverless cars in smart cities while retaining Bentley’s elegance. Watson’s model is about a time when “international business travel will no longer restrict where people are able to live, as sustainable, luxury stratospheric Grand Touring will be a reality.”

We don’t know what the future holds for humans or the automobile. Just remember there will also be luxury modes of transportation for those who can afford it, so Bentley will have to find a way to differentiate itself from the other autonomous EVs in the world. You can see all the submissions here. 

Bentley Cars Of 2050

Gallery: Bentley Cars Of 2050

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THE FUTURE OF BRITISH LUXURY: A BENTLEY AND ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART COLLABORATION

The students were challenged to imagine how – in an increasingly virtual and digital world – elements of physical materiality, technology and craftsmanship can be curated to create a truly luxurious Grand Touring experience.

Bentley’s Design Director Stefan Sielaff, an alumnus of the RCA’s renowned Automotive Design programme, explained: “Bentley has always been at the forefront of automotive luxury, and with this collaboration we asked millennial students for their vision of the future.

“We wanted ideas and concepts that could potentially lead us in new and interesting directions, using the perspective of these digital natives – from all over the world – to see things differently. These second-year students are the ones who will be designing the cars of the future – the taste makers in training, if you will. That’s why the results of the challenge are so exciting.”

Dr. Chris Thorpe, Senior Tutor in Intelligent Mobility at the RCA, added: “How do you make tomorrow’s personal journey an emotional experience, as evolving culture, disruptive technology and personal desires change tomorrow’s car? Our students tackled that question when Bentley asked them to look at automotive luxury over the next 30 years.”

Soundscapes, luxury stratospheric transportation and sophisticated driverless elegance all feature in the diverse design visions, which were created in response to the question: ‘What will British luxury mean in 2050?’

From the 24 student responses submitted, four were identified as being particularly thought provoking by RCA lecturers and the Bentley design team, who also offered guidance and tutelage throughout the curriculum project.

These academic outcomes considered the impacts of new technologies and craftsmanship on personal transport, and interrogated what luxury might mean in an autonomous and increasingly sustainable world.

From Soundscapes to the Stratosphere – The Student Responses

‘Luxury Soundscapes’ by Irene Chiu’s considered the role of sound in future luxury mobility, with a vehicle that can selectively filter undesirable and stressful noises while at the same time allowing pleasurable bioacoustics to remain. She suggests that soundscape will be a transformative approach to in-cabin acoustics in autonomous vehicles, demonstrating how it could be influential in passengers’ health, wellbeing and travel experiences.

‘Material Humanity’ by Kate NamGoong identified the unexpected and the emotional as qualities that will continue to be appreciated by luxury car customers in 2050. Moreover, she suggests true luxury in the future will be the choice to occasionally drive yourself in an internal combustion vehicle, when the rest of the world is fully autonomous and electric. With traditional engines becoming such a rarity, Kate imagines that people will want to see the mechanical workings – just as they do with luxurious mechanical watches today.

‘Stratospheric Grand Touring’ by Jack Watson took inspiration from Bentley’s near-100-year history of groundbreaking innovation for his design study. His vision of future luxury imagines a scenario where international business travel will no longer restrict where people are able live, as sustainable, luxury stratospheric Grand Touring will be a reality.

‘Elegant Autonomy’ by Enuji Choi looked at the importance of elegance and British etiquette in a future with driverless vehicles built for smart cities. The project focuses on the etiquette of ingress and egress, and how it has evolved over time – from horse-drawn carriages to modern-day cars – and the way it will continue to evolve in an autonomous world.

View all of the student submissions at www.rca.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/intelligent-mobility-students-envisage-future-luxury-collaboration-bentley