The Mini and Rolls-Royce VISION NEXT 100 concepts show why we are afraid of the future

When BMW revealed its VISION NEXT 100 Concept, back in March, it looked like déjà-vu. The car was very similar to the Audi RSQ used in the movie “I, Robot”. And it was also autonomous. We were shocked to see BMW with that vision of future. Especially if it comes from a carmaker that was, not long ago, regarded as builder of driving machines. What good is an autonomous driving machine? We thought it could not get worse, but it did. BMW has introduced today the Mini and the Rolls-Royce VISION NEXT 100 concepts. And they make us fear what is ahead of us.

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The Mini VISION NEXT 100 is electric. And that does not surprise us. It is a matter or energy efficiency. And it can be fun, as Tesla, Toroidion and Rimac have already shown. But we have no idea on how powerful the “future of Mini” is. Even if BMW says the future Mini models “will continue to offer the driving fun we know and love in the future”. It is an autonomous machine, but at least it has a steering wheel. And you will soon understand why we say something apparently obvious.

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Engaging all senses. And evoking all feelings

The car is worried about “engaging all the senses” and letting others know about the driver’s mood. That can be accomplished with the help of a silver skin MINI designers call “blank canvas”. It shows messages, signs and helps customize the car. Good luck to BMW on that. If the company manages to get all its vehicle owners to use the turn signals in nowadays cars, that will already be a revolution. Even the roof of the car can adjusted to the driver’s tastes.

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While the back doors slide rearwards, the front doors have a mechanism that have a similar effect. It puts them ahead, but a little to the side, what saves space and allows the occupants to enter and leave the car in narrow parking spaces.

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The VISION NEXT 100 does not have a conventional front end. It is entirely made of glass, as if you needed no privacy at all. Or as if you were supposed to like the awful light rings that are supposed to be headlights. The steering wheel, suspended on a sort of brass arch, shows a by-wire connection to the front wheels. If they even steer, as it is possible to make the car change its direction by imposing different speeds to each of the wheels.

 

Spirit of Disappointment

And then we get to the future of Rolls-Royce. May God have mercy on the Spirit of Ecstasy…

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Yes, this is the autonomous, no-steering wheel future of Rolls-Royce, represented by the VISION NEXT 100 concept. And it is funny to say a Rolls-Royce is autonomous. All of them currently are. Or have you seen any Rolls-Royce owner driving the car? Instead of a Jarvis, like Tony Stark, they have a James. One that has a life when he leaves the job. Rolls-Royce has decided to call its virtual assistant Eleanor, an homage to Eleanor Thornton, the woman who has inspired the creation of the Spirit of Ecstasy sculpture.

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The future of Rolls-Royce would be offering the two passengers a screen showing galaxies and a relief on the monthly budget by excluding the need of hiring a professional driver. If you pay careful attention to it, the Rolls-Royce VISION NEXT 100 is a luxurious Google Pod.

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Definition of luxury: 5.9 m to carry 2 people

It is electric, of course. And BMW does not even bother to say the 5.9 m machine has “enough power”. It says nothing about it. The only information we have is that Rolls-Royce will probably put coachbuilders back on business. This is something we’ve already heard about Tesla. Rolls-Royce will produce the chassis and give its customers multiple possibilities of customization.

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As the VISION NEXT 100 is electric, its long hood is nothing but an ornament itself. And it works as a trunk with an odd side opening. As a bus. Or as a McLaren F1, only slower. And less impressive.

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The front door is a suicide-door, hinged at the back, but the roof also opens, to grand easier access to the interior. The Rolls-Royce VISION NEXT 100 seems to have a worry with aerodynamics, but it only makes its appearance even weirder, as if two bicycles were joined by a cabin.

 

The revolution in front of our eyes

There is no reason for having a car that does not offer you some sort of advantage. A driving pleasure, practicality, the possibility to go anywhere anytime. But there is a huge chance cars will become a mobility service. There will be no need to own a car in order to get the advantages mentioned. As you do not have to buy a telephone line in order to call people, for example.

BMW clearly worries with that possibility, but its concepts show it is betting on the exact things that threaten to kill the car as we know it. And letting go the exact thing that made BMW be what it is today: a builder of driving machines.

Gustavo Henrique Ruffo

I have been an automotive journalist since 1998 and have worked for many important Brazilian newspapers and magazines, such as the local edition of Car and Driver and Quatro Rodas, Brazilian's biggest car magazine. I have also worked for foreign websites, such as World Car Fans and won a few journalism prizes, among them three SAE Journalism Awards and the 2017 IAM RoadSmart Safety Award. I am the author of "The Traffic Cholesterol", a book about bad drivers that you can buy at Hotmart, Google Play, Amazon and Kobo.