Has luxury car design as we know it run out of course? And if so, how do we excite upcoming generations of creatives to help express a new age of luxury? This is loosely the premise of “Lexus 2040: The Soul of Future Premium”, a design competition initiated by Lexus Europe and the Royal College of Art in London.
Lexus has set the 20 participating RCA Intelligent Mobility postgraduate students the task to explore new vehicle architectures that specifically meets lifestyle changes in European cities. Simultaneously the carmaker has asked them to map out the potential role Lexus could play within this imaginary, futuristic mobility landscape.
The six shortlist winning ideas includes a color shifting car to evoke the spirit of changing seasons in an urban setting, highly personalized Vtols (vertical take-off and landing) that dock within buildings, and tessellation-featured pods which link with one another seamlessly to ensure the fluidity of transport and thus introducing the luxury of experience to your daily commute.
These students are not imagining classic luxury cars. And this is understandable. Luxury is an ambiguous concept that has been overused and abused to market and sell “stuff”. If the value was once in being the finest, the rarest of products, in today’s knotty consumer world (and in light of socio-economic disparity and the critical health of our planet), the old world notion of luxury has lost its footing. Instead time, knowledge, intellect, ideas, education, art, craft, skills, history, love, passion, stories, poetry — these more elusive elements are the luxury of now and the future. Rather than exclusive or expensive, extraordinary and even shared experiences are the new luxury. And the younger generations seemingly see this.
RCA student Bangning An’s “Vision In-season”, for instance, nods to the old Japanese concept of ichi-go, ichi-e — staying attentive to everyday moments. To highlight this, the vehicle’s intelligent roof controls the intensity of daylight entering the cabin for immersive experiences as a way of helping younger generations born and raised in dense urban settings to come to appreciate seasonal changes.
Another concept that references Japan is “NEKO” by Jan Niehues. The micro-mobility’s insect-like exoskeleton has sensor cameras and an intelligent recording device to deliver on-demand experiences inspired by Japanese culture and nature. When operated as a shared vehicle, the occupants can view recordings from previous journeys for an instant Instagram experience. What’s more, 4D technology offers optimized ergonomics so, for instance, the vehicle can perform traditional Japanese bowing, while microbots allow flexibility for speed in urban areas.
“ALTO” is designed for a time when a luxury experience is a celebration of the everyday, according to Richard Newman. The designer describes the hydrogen-powered, pendant-style airborne vehicle as “jewelry in the sky, like a cloud’s earring”. The design is a cross between a plant terrarium and a hot air balloon, with the top of the vehicle personalized like a ring to feature different “stones”. Lastly, its architecture would include unified cladding so it can dock onto the side of buildings.
Elsewhere, “Crucible” by Benjamin Miller is a hydrogen-powered escape-from-the-city vehicle that alters to meet our different needs. The luxury cabin is kept separate from the tech side, while the ever-changing interior adapts to various configuration, plus it can even enter the home.
“#Units” by Zhenyu Kong taps into social media’s power to share opinions and emotions. For instance, it links virtually to other vehicles where it can be used as a projector device, so passengers can join concerts or parties virtually. And as an added bonus, the interior can be personalized using blockchain technology for NFT artworks to be purchased and presented on a journey.
For a project I can certainly identify with living in traffic chocked London, and one I feel best expresses new luxury, “UrbanSwarm” by Maxime Gauthier bring the luxury experience to the everyday urban commute by creating fluid transport. The modular concept combines the flexibility and convenience of personal micro-mobility with the efficiency of shared transportation systems through its tessellation feature with which it can link seamlessly link with other pods.
The RCA students have been closely mentored by Ian Cartabiano and Lance Scott, respectively president and general design manager at Lexus European design studio ED2. Professor Dale Harrow, chair at the RCA’s Intelligent Mobility Design Center and Chris Thorpe, head of program at Intelligent Mobility have also been involved in guiding the students (small disclosure: I took part in the early stages of the collaboration).
“We were very impressed by the breadth of creativity and innovation shown by all the designers,” says Cartabiano. “They demonstrated skill and imagination in bringing together their ideas for future mobility and vision of how the concept of Lexus premium quality might evolve.”
The six finalists will now refine and develop their work ahead of the announcement for the three winning projects and a public exhibition to be held at RCA’s new London campus in Battersea on 15 March 2022.
See some other inventive car/design/art collaborations: BMW and Jeff Koons and with Spanish artist Almudena Romero, Ares and sculptor Hubert Phipps and Polestar global design contest.