The art of luxury in an autonomous age

0 Posted by - 22nd September 2019 - Technology

Bentley’s Head of Interior Design, Brett Boydell, and programme leader of the luxury brand management MA at the University of Southampton, Debbie Pinder, discuss the future of luxury and how forthcoming Bentley models will redefine what it means to travel in style.

Bentley is a company steeped in history. A company that has long created luxurious automobiles that are as at home on the world’s most famous race tracks as they are touring some of Europe’s finest winding roads. W.O Bentley’s motto was ‘to build a fast car, a good car, the best in its class’, which still rings true to this day, but how does a company founded on speed, handling and poise on the racetrack continue to attract customers in a future that will introduce increasing levels of automation?

“Bentley owners have experienced autonomous driving for over 100 years now, it’s just that they’ve typically had someone in the driving seat doing the work for them,” explains Bentley’s Head of Interior Design (Studio 2), Brett Boydell.

“But the advent of more advanced autonomous systems and electric drivetrains allows us to be more creative when it comes to conceptualising the automotive interior of the future. This technology has the potential to increase the levels of luxury we know today,” he adds.

This subject has been explored in the marque’s recent EXP 100 GT concept vehicle, which features a dramatic 5.8 metre body and an interior that showcases cutting-edge sustainable materials, the latest in wellness tech and configurable seating that seamlessly switches between a first class lounge experience and a more traditional driving position.

A changing landscape

According to luxury brand consultant and programme leader of the luxury brand management MA at the University of Southampton, Debbie Pinder, the definition of luxury has shifted in recent years. The growth in popularity of social media and other digital platforms means today’s high net worth individuals are seeking products and experiences that are truly bespoke. More importantly, issues of privacy and escapism are rapidly becoming the new currency of the wealthy.

“A constant bombardment of information will soon become the norm and high net worth individuals will happily pay for moments of calm and tranquility. The fact that they will be able to design and specify the interior of their future car so it becomes a space to relax and improve wellness will alter the way we approach travelling,” she explains.

Electric propulsion means the basic architecture of the EXP 100 GT is very different from the cars we know today and its flat floor means it feels more like a relaxing space in the home than a typical automotive experience. The concept is designed to celebrate Bentley’s centenary but also look forward at the next 100 years, so it features myriad technologies that Boydell believes will be commonplace in the next 20 years or so.

“Autonomy and artificial intelligence embedded in the car will be common practice by the year 2035. Although intelligence will be woven into every surface, the interior remains beautiful and beautifully crafted, with the connectivity we require to carry out our daily lives seamlessly fused within a space where we can relax and escape,” he adds.

Driving towards the future

Despite a rise in traffic and congestion in the world’s largest cities, many still view the automobile as the ultimate freedom machine. Granted, the halcyon days of luxurious continent-crossing grand tours might be somewhat stifled, but Bentley believes there is still something inherently luxurious about the journey.

Hence the decision to ensure a traditional steering wheel and pedals remained in the EXP 100 GT, because what’s more luxurious than taking control when the route ahead opens up and the full performance capabilities of the vehicle can be explored?

“Admittedly, it would be a small percentage of the time that future Bentley owners will be driving but that choice and ability to take control is crucial – ensuring that every journey has the ability to make memories and experiences,” Boydell claims.

Brett Boydell, Bentley’s Head of Interior Design- Studio 2

Charlie Surbey

Interestingly, the British marque also believes that the choice to interact with the outside world or shy away from it is also essential in defining automotive luxury in the years to come. Smart glass and increased levels of connectivity will allow passengers to interact with their surroundings if they so wish, but the ability to silence the hubbub and escape it all is a true marker of luxury.

“Emotional connection will become very import in the future. Digital information is quite distant and cold, so we see a yearning, particularly among the next generation, for tactility and feedback. They want to be involved in the experience. Just because we can travel autonomously doesn’t mean we have to neglect the connection with the machine,” Boydell adds.

Mobility is a current buzzword within the automotive industry and there is a worry that travel is merely becoming a pragmatic process of getting from A to B, but Bentley believes that there is an opportunity with its next generation of vehicles to reinstate a sense of opulence in the act of hitting the open road.

Beautifully crafted interiors that fuse technology with artisan manufacturing methods, advanced autonomous driving modes and artificial intelligence that ensures occupants exit the vehicle in a better mental and physical state than when they arrived will assist in this journey, which for Bentley, is only just beginning.

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