Porsche's electric van cabin looks to the "day after tomorrow"
With a lack of auto shows to prepare for and attend, Porsche spent some of 2020 flipping back in its design annals and giving the world a look at "Unseen" concepts it had developed but never made public. One of them was the silky-smooth Renndienst, a modernized electric take on a classic VW T1 Porsche factory race team service van. As far as we knew at the time, the Renndienst was entirely a 1:1 exterior model, but this week, Porsche dives inside to show the van's unique 1-2-3 layout.
I disagree with my colleague Loz Blain, who pinned the Renndienst as "aesthetically challenging" when we first took a look at it last November. I do find the design a bit confused, its lack of rear side windows giving it the look of a work-ready panel van rather than that of a six-seat MPV. It also feels like it's essentially a Volkswagen concept with Porsche badging and a couple sporty design cues thrown on.
That said, I find it to be at least as attractive as the original ID. Buzz, thanks in no small part to the lipstick-red paint hugging every curve and volume. It certainly looks better than the early photos of the production ID. Buzz currently circulating around the web.
To fill out the Renndienst's interior, Porsche's chief designer Michael Mauer teamed up with head of interior design Markus Auerbach and director of UX design Ivo van Hulten. Their mission was to supply the "futuristic and edgeless" van with an equally futuristic travel cabin, a vision for the "day after tomorrow."
The Renndienst's central driver seat initially looked like it might be a simple nod to the van's motorsports origins, but Mauer explains that it's more a way of giving an autonomous van a more Porsche-like driving experience. In this way, the driver can completely zero in on the road ahead like an F1 driver. When switched over to autonomous mode, he or she can spin around to face the rear passengers.
The greater cockpit blends digital and analog controls. Auerbach explains in a refreshing display of the type of common sense that's nearly extinct in the automotive industry: "Haptic buttons in the vehicle cockpit are perfect because you don’t have to take your eyes off the road."
Yes, yes, they are.
As for the panel van-like absence of rear side windows, Porsche must have realized that aspect looks much cooler from the outside than the inside because it has done a little updating. The interior renderings show only the left side of the rear cabin going without side windows, the right gaining a more traditional rectangular window. The idea is that a passenger can either retreat into quiet, low-light privacy on the left or enjoy the passing view on the right.
The center row comprises two independent seats, each of which faces a dedicated digital display hanging from the lower dashboard. When not in use, the displays can slide away into the dashboard.
We didn't actually expect to see the Renndienst again after its initial appearance teasing the Porsche Unseen book, but it appears Porsche isn't done imagineering it yet. It says it's now exploring giving the van a Knight Rider-inspired "soul."
"K.I.T.T., the talking car, fascinated me. The strong team of the protagonist and his vehicle really captured my imagination," says van Hulten. "I connected with the car because it had a soul. What kind of daily interactions do we plan—in thirty years, will we call our car and then it will come around and pick us up?”
We can already hear the inimitable Knight Rider theme music growing louder in the background.