Auto Makers Rethink the Car With Swivel Seats, Self-Cleaning Buttons and Window Art

Auto Makers Rethink the Car With Swivel Seats, Self-Cleaning Buttons and Window Art

When Bertha Benz, wife and business partner of German inventor Karl Benz, took the first long-distance ride in an automobile, her husband’s newly patented motorcar, one August day in 1888, it was little more than a horse-drawn carriage with an engine.

That has been mostly the case for the past 132 years. It’s about to change.

The space inside the car that is designed for its operator and passengers is built around the mechanical requirements of the car’s engine, transmission and other components. The seating still resembles a coach, though more comfortable, and the engine is more powerful.

“Over the last 100 years you can’t really say the car was designed around the people; they got what space was left over,” says Adrian van Hooydonk, 56, the chief designer for Bayerische Motoren Werke AG .

As the auto industry contemplates the impact of technology—from electric cars, internet connectivity, and ultimately vehicles that drive themselves—designers are reinventing the interior of the automobile and how its passengers experience the ride. One doesn’t have to imagine some fantastic future with Jetsons-like inventions zipping around on the ground and in the air because the future is already on the drawing boards of car makers today.

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