Although the Volkswagen Group has mastered the art of platform-sharing, the seven major car manufacturers under its umbrella go to great lengths to differentiate their vehicles from one another. Sure, the VW Golf and Seat Leon share the same basic chassis and engines, but those elements are wrapped in a very different exterior, and each is engineered by a different team. This attitude means all the brands under the umbrella have a unique feel. The latest concept to come from Volkswagen throws that approach out the window, acting as a platform for the whole VW Group to show off and develop its ideas about autonomy.
Think of it like automotive communism, a sharing economy designed to improve the car to tackle the, er, car-sharing economy manufacturers are expecting to develop in the future.
To that end, the Sedric (a clumsy conjunction of Self Driving Car) goes without distinctive styling, and it wears a Volkswagen Group badge on the nose. The designers suggest brands could adorn it with their own look if it made it to production, but for now the focus is on the technology.
That tech is all focused on making the passengers feel at home in the post-steering wheel world. Instead of seating five people on individual forward-facing seats, the cabin aims for a lounge-style design, with lots of light materials and open space. Tesla has turned to HEPA-grade filters to help occupants breathe easier, but VW thinks the answer lies in the garden bed positioned in the rear window – although a set of bamboo/charcoal air filters also ensure city smog doesn't make it into the cabin.
Once they're comfortably seated, passengers are able to tell the car where they want to go and it will respond like a personal assistant, giving information about traffic, drive time and potential breaks on the route. The front windscreen also helps the car communicate with its occupants, serving as an OLED screen capable of the communication and entertainment we expect of the infotainment systems in current cars (and more).
Not only will autonomy impact on the way we travel in cars, it's likely to change the way we buy them too. Everyone from Ford to Tesla envisions a future where owners let their self-driving cars run around during the day like self-driving taxis, more efficiently using the time usually spent sitting around in a garage to make money. Alternatively, we might not own cars at all, instead using subscription services for on-demand mobility.
While some manufacturers suggest using an Uber-style app to hail their cars, Sedric is accompanied by a car-key-sized button. Push the button and the keyring will tell you how far away the car is, before alerting the user their car is arriving using visual and physical cues. According to Volkswagen, this makes it easier for visually impaired or deaf riders to use the system.
Given this is just a concept designed to highlight what's possible with self-driving cars at the moment, Volkswagen hasn't revealed too much about the potential powertrains for Sedric. We know it would be electric, with batteries housed under the floor, but details about the propulsion system are otherwise scant. If the latest ID and ID-Buzz concepts are anything to go by, you can expect a range of 500 - 600 km (311 - 373 mi) from the car.
The VW Group Sedric concept is on display at the Geneva Motor Show, where New Atlas is on the ground covering all the action. Stay tuned for the latest.