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Car and Driver: Bentley Shows Autonomous “Future of Luxury” Pod, Complete with Holographic Butler


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Future of Luxury


Luxury automakers are thinking about autonomy as hard as anybody else, and even contemplating what could happen when we get to the era beyond driving. Which is why Bentley has released this sketch of what it thinks this far-distant future could look like: the interior of what is basically Johnny Cab for billionaires, complete with a holographic butler.


We’re not supposed to be taking this as an indication of serious production intent. Bentley’s newly arrived design director, Stefan Sielaff, introduced it as evidence that his team is constantly considering what any number of alternate futures could end up being like.


“In our design studio we are working on the stuff that is on the market in five years time,” he told us, in a design briefing on Bentley’s future held in London. “We are living in the future and what you see here is the past for us and the present for you.”


Mulsanne Grand Limousine by Mulliner


Of course, Bentley has a long history of creating cars with face-to-face seating, including most recently the Mulsanne Grand Limousine [above] seen at the Geneva motor show, with Sielaff saying he is keen to explore the opportunities that the possible long-term ability to remove the driver from the equation gives.


“We have had the equivalent of autonomous cars for the last 100 years in Bentley, from the point of view of the rear seat passenger who had a driver,” Sielaff said. “The way of living is going to change dramatically in the next 20 years. If you look at the world population, three quarters will live in megacities. I’m pretty sure that not everybody will sit in public transport, there is always the demand—especially for luxury customers—to have a private sphere, their own private vehicle. Maybe a luxury customer will be part of a fast-lane club and the swarm [of other autonomous vehicles] will get out of the way when the big shark arrives—we are playing with ideas here.”


But the image also drops plenty of clues about technology the next generation of Bentleys will feature. The Speed Six concept showed off “quilted wood” trim, and we’re told to expect to see it soon. Similarly, we could see OLED displays built into panels and a return to luxury fabrics rather than leather; Sielaff says that the liberal millennials who will soon be buying their first Bentleys are far less enthusiastic about acres of hide than previous generations, and will want their luxury cars to reflect similarly sustainable values. Even the virtual butler, seen here as a sort of Jeevesian take on the message Princess Leia uses R2D2 to record, is being worked on behind the scenes.


“Luxury is always related to service,” Sielaff explained, “people don’t like the idea of just talking to a hidden microphone, we are thinking of how to personalize the next generation of communication.”


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