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Volvo Says Self-Driving Cars Don't Have to Look Like Clown Cars

Move over, Google. Volvo has a sleek autonomous vehicle called Concept 26.


The future of autonomous driving will bear no resemblance to Google’s robot cars tooling around Northern California like so many Jetsons’ rejects — at least if Volvo has anything to say about it.

The Swedish automaker Wednesday unveiled a luxurious interior design concept for the autonomous vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show that reimagines what the driver will do when no longer behind the wheel.

“All driving isn’t broken, but the commute is,” said Anders Tylman-Mikiewicz, general manager of the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center that developed the new look. “Our focus was to fix what was broken about driving and fix it fast.”

Once the car takes over the chore of operating the vehicle on the freeway, the driver’s seat pulls away from the steering wheel as it reclines. This affords a better view of the expansive, 25-inch flat-screen monitor that rotates into position from its hiding place, tucked under the passenger’s side of the dashboard.

A tablet, positioned at the end of the center console, allows the driver to choose how to pass the time — whether that’s checking email or catching up on an episode of a favorite TV show.

A few reporters got a glimpse of Volvo’s new Concept 26 interior last week, which the automaker kept under wraps in the nondescript industrial building 50 miles north of Los Angeles that houses the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center.


Mikiewicz and others on his team talked about how Volvo plans to market a robot car to luxury car buyers, for whom time is the greatest luxury.

Concept 26 emphasizes reclaiming the 26 minutes the average consumer spends commuting to work — even longer in urban areas, where the drive can stretch to an hour or more each way. Drivers already dangerously multitask en route to work, shaving or checking email.

“This is one of the proof points for autonomous cars — the desire to do more in the car,” said Volvo’s Jesper Andreasson.

Volvo isn’t the only carmaker to imagine the driver as disengaged (or otherwise engaged) while riding in a self-driving vehicle.

Nissan unveiled the IDS Concept at the Tokyo Motor Show, which similarly sports a redesigned cabin layout that emphasizes relaxation. Among the features is a steering wheel that moves back into the instrument panel, to be replaced by a flat-screen display.

“The idea of time being the ultimate luxury and autonomous driving being a tool to give time back — that’s a common theme we’ve been hearing through a lot of automakers doing autonomous concepts,” said auto industry analyst Ed Kim. “The reconfigurable interior … we definitely have seen various executions of that idea in concept cars over recent years.”

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