Thomas Geiger -
It seems that the designers and experimental masterminds at some of the world’s largest automakers are keen for vehicle owners to ditch their oil cans and petrol canisters and tend plants with watering cans.
At least that’s the impression gleaned from some of the concept cars displayed at the recent CES electronics tradeshow in Las Vegas and at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Companies such as BMW and Rinspeed are designing car interiors with live plants.
Even in spots where no moss and or grass is growing, there are at least natural wood boards on the floors and fresh veneer inside the doors.
By creating this earthy ambience, designers are offering a counterpoint to current trends in vehicle development.
While electronics are gaining more and more influence, touchscreens are getting bigger, networked driving is ramping up and digital features are increasingly important, these natural elements can help drivers stay grounded.
In vehicles like the VW I D Buzz or the Nissan VMotion 2.0, these natural features are thus far limited to, for example, light floorboards or tropical wood panels in the doors and dashboard.
Other manufacturers have taken this focus to another level by growing live plants in car interiors.
In the BMW i Inside Future cockpit, which offers a sneak peek of the next i-Series interior, real moss — which, according to spokesman Cypselus von Frankenberg, required daily watering from CES staff — sprouts out from under the recycled material-sourced rear seat.
In Detroit, Chinese manufacturer GAC’s SUV concept, the EnSpirit, features a bonsai tree on the armrest between the rear seats.
One particularly unorthodox thinker, Frank Rinderknecht, has even created a real greenhouse for miniature plants behind the steering wheel of his Rinspeed concept car, the Oasis. This includes air-conditioning, irrigation and a fresh air flap along the front windscreen.
“It’s like a flower pot that you can take with you,” explains the company boss. “The Oasis’s green area is big enough for bonsai trees or radishes.”
From Rinspeed’s point of view, there are several, multifaceted motivations for the wood-tinged aesthetics and the literally living interior design.
According to von Frankenberg, BMW wants to emphasise the sustainability of their electric vehicles and continue in their current vein of using more natural materials in manufacturing processes, such as the eucalyptus-wood dashboards that come standard in many models.
GAC developer Jian Yun Su sees the wooden accents in his company’s models as a symbol of a responsible relationship with the environment. “After all, we are not dealing with a normal SUV here, but rather with an environmentally friendly plug-in hybrid.”
Within the concept of “mobile urban gardening,” Frank Rinderknecht sees another step towards making cars living spaces.
“If a car, after a person’s home and office, becomes their so-called Third Place, then it shouldn’t be missing flowers,” he insists.
Mini-trees as fashionable partitions, moss as a trim and floral accents under the front window — thus far, the ideas remain comparatively far-fetched for shows only, but are expected to grow into more practical features as production develops.
But the long way ahead is illustrated by a closer look at the bonsai tree in the GAC study: rather than wood, the tree, it turned out, is actually made of plastic. — dpa