Autopia: The future of cars

28th July 2017
erin_baker_headshot.jpg Erin Baker

The future of motoring is accelerating faster than ever, and where better to showcase this than at Festival of Speed, with the inaugural FoS Future Lab... First, Erin Baker meets Padmasree Warrior, CEO of Nio and the woman Fortune magazine dubbed ‘queen of the electric car biz’

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The Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea, on a cold Tuesday morning: outside, the winter rain is running off commuter umbrellas. Inside, a group of international motoring journalists are assembled in a bare space with a huge image of the ocean projected on one wall. Nothing but cobalt blue and white lines, quiet music and the presence of a handful of Chinese interpreters scattered round the room.

Welcome to the new way of doing car launches. Welcome, in fact, to the new face of the automotive industry. Goodbye industrial manufacturing plants, fossil fuels and traditional marques. The car industry is evolving into a collective of user enterprises, spawned by the giants of our age: Google, Apple, Bosch, Panasonic and Uber. The car is rapidly becoming “the third space”, after the home and the office, in which to work, connect, learn and inform. Driving as a pastime barely makes the list. Silicon Valley has moved on, to a world in which driving as a concept is disenfranchised, substituted by that most millennial of phrases: connectivity.

The Airbus Pop.Up: the flying car becomes a reality

The Airbus Pop.Up: the flying car becomes a reality

In the vanguard of this new order is NextEV, a Chinese company that describes itself as a “next-generation electric car company”, run by William Li, an entrepreneur with 40 companies under his belt, including

In the race to be the future fuel of choice, electricity has won hands down, with a strong presence in motorsport (Formula E) and the public consciousness. Every mass manufacturer, and most niche ones, are working on a hybrid or pure electric car. It was the launch of NextEV’s new electric car marque, Nio – embodied in the Nio EP9 electric hypercar – that took place at the Saatchi Gallery in November 2016.

While the EP9 stole the headlines, with its one megawatt (1,360bhp) of power and £1m price tag, the real story lies behind the question: “What next?”

Nio is perhaps the first credible global car brand to come out of China, and you can bet it won’t be the last. NextEV stormed on to the international stage by winning the inaugural Formula E Drivers’ Championship in 2014 with Nelson Piquet Junior, and now has its sights firmly set on worldwide, mass-market electric cars.

While its first affordable cars go on sale in China this year, the US arm of the company will produce the first fully autonomous cars, and has secured a licence for autonomous-vehicle testing on public roads in California. Meanwhile,the company’s Formula E and EP9 performance-oriented operations are in the UK, while the design centre is in Munich.

The car is a computer. What would that look like? The industry is going through a massive change. In the next 10 years there will be a lot more digital content'

Padmasree Warrior CEO, Nio

It’s time to sit up and take notice, not least of the woman who’s at the heart of Nio: Padmasree Warrior, CEO of Nio in the US and global CTO of the company, with software responsibility. You might as well replace the word “car” with “software” from now on, because the latter will be the product that makes or breaks a brand.

Formally CTSO of Cisco, Warrior – named by Forbes as one of the “world’s 100 most powerful women” three years running – joined NextEV a year ago as employee number 60 (there are now 280 in the States alone). It’s her first dip in the turbulent waters of the automotive sector. One senses that every car manufacturer will be looking for someone with fresh thinking, from outside the industry, to take up senior positions in the coming years.

“The car is a computer; what would that look like?” she asks me, by way of explaining the company ethos. “The experience is interesting. It’s a fascinating time; in the next 10 years there will be a lot more digital content; it [the automotive industry] is going through major change.”

Padmasree Warrior, CEO of Nio and the woman Fortune magazine dubbed ‘queen of the electric car biz’

Padmasree Warrior, CEO of Nio and the woman Fortune magazine dubbed ‘queen of the electric car biz’

Nio sees itself as a premium car brand. “But,” says Warrior, “in the global market, the definition of premium is changing. It used to be a lot of chrome, leather… Now it’s convenience, technology, simplicity. Our focus is user experience: we’re focused around a premium experience rather than a premium car. We want to eliminate the pain points of ownership. Buying a car is a painful experience; parking is a painful experience; commuting is a painful experience…”

So, like other manufacturers, Nio will help owners secure parking, charging, traffic-free driving and other concierge- based services. But unlike other brands, Nio is bringing the car and tech worlds closer together at a faster rate, using Warrior’s expertise. “The process needs to be reinvented, not just the product,” she tells me. “The life cycle [of a car] is a lot longer [than that of tech products] and we want to shake up that process. In six years in the tech world, a company dies: it’s a very different product cycle. Can I build an organisation that brings together two worlds and creates something even better?”

The smart money would be on an emphatic “yes”.

Roborace cars is supporting this season’s Formula E grand prix
The Mini of the future: out go chrome and leather, in come brass and basalt

Mapping the future

We've seen the future, and it's all about bridging the gap between driver and vehicle.

Remember a world before satnav, when dog-eared, muddied road atlases littered the footwell, with favourite picnic places annotated in pencil, and traffic-free routes marked with a highlighter?

Well, plus ça change… for all the talk about new technology, what the rest of the 21st century will largely be about is the third stage of mapping. Only this time around, it will be your car that reads the map, and the routes won’t be round towns and through villages; they’ll be between lamp-posts and kerbs, round other street furniture, over wi-fi charge points embedded in the road (from where your car battery will draw a current), between patches of black ice and other adverse weather conditions, and past the cyclist who’s coming round the corner but you can’t yet see. And you won’t have to update the map by buying a new one – the information will be provided digitally and updated in real time.

This new form of mapping is how autonomous vehicles will navigate their way, and is part of the brave new world we call “connectivity”. The ubiquitous term – which, alongside sustainability, you’ll grow sick of hearing before the year is out – covers everything from how driverless cars find their way to what the public use their cars for: reserving a parking space, charge point or restaurant table perhaps, or checking how full your fridge is and whether you need to order a grocery delivery to coincide with your arrival home. Oh, and speaking of satnav, the future version will stream an augmented-reality-style arrow down the road ahead of you through the windscreen, and into the next road you should take.


See what's on at the Motor Circuit this summer

If you think that sounds weird, how about autonomous motorsport? Goodwood’s inaugural FoS Future Lab at this summer’s Festival of Speed featured Roborace, a UK-based autonomous racing car company, which exhibited its F1-style driverless electric cars. The Robocars, as they’re called, are controlled by a computer from the pits and are currently supporting this season’s Formula E grand prix.

Connectivity also covers the connection between driver and car. Toyota’s Concept-i, revealed at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, determines the driver’s mood via heart rate, sweat and eye-movement sensors, while Bosch’s CES concept uses facial-recognition technology to personalise music and seat preferences. BMW, meanwhile, has for a while been using gesture control to operate the infotainment system via swishes of the hand; now, however, a new “haptic feedback” system, which uses ultrasound, links with gesture control to determine the driver’s hand signals more clearly and makes touchscreen controls feel like real buttons to the fingertips.

An electric hypercar from Nio, China's first credible global car brand

An electric hypercar from Nio, China's first credible global car brand

Then there’s the growing ability of apps to bridge the gap between car and owner, even when that gap is hundreds of miles wide. Land Rover has already developed an app through which the owner can configure the seven seats of the new Discovery, laying the last row flat, for example, when you realise in the shop that your purchase won’t fit in the boot. Of course, with every manufacturer competing for the best customer experience, the devil is in the details: we love the “Have I locked it?” feature in the new Mercedes Me Connect app, which does just what it says: if it transpires that you haven’t locked your car, you can do so – from anywhere in the world (assuming you have wi-fi or a phone signal). It’s a neat reminder that, in the race for the greatest technology, the systems with a human touch will always be the ones that win over the consumer.

Welcome to the future.

FoS Future Lab, an innovative new exhibition at this summer’s Festival of Speed, was designed to showcase the pioneering travel and mobility technology of the future. While the heart of the festival – raw speed, powerful combustion engines and dynamic motorsport – still beat fervently throughout the weekend, Goodwood has once again shown its roots as the champion of future design and engineering by showcasing the rapidly evolving mobility scene.

Benedict Redgrove's images of NASA robots

Benedict Redgrove’s images of NASA robots were exhibited publicly for the first time at FoS Future Lab. Redgrave was given special access as part of a long-term photography project

FoS Future Lab: the highlights

The Pop.Up

Airbus has joined Italdesign to build a flying car. The Pop.Up two-seater is a concept, with a four-wheel chassis, a carbon-fibre passenger compartment and a roof-mounted drone.

Stratasys/McLaren F1

McLaren’s F1 team has signed a deal with Stratasys, a 3D-printing company, to bring 3D printing to the pitlane. Parts can be amended and printed within 15 minutes during track testing time. An artist will “reimagine” the Goodwood trophy, to be 3D-printed during the festival.

Drone racing

Hosted by US company Thrust UAV, drone racing involves viewers putting on first-person-view (FPV) headsets to ride with a racing drone around a track.


Combining road and air travel, the Pal-V One comprises a gyrocopter with a tricycle undercarriage. Its commercially available version, PAL-V Liberty, was on display at FoS Future Lab.


British designed and built, this concept for a luxury flying road vehicle is a hot topic of VTOL (vertical take off and landing) craft, which are influencing the future of private land-to-air transport.

HTC Vive

A 3D drawing tool in VR, the Tilt Brush app allows the user to draw in beams of light within the app environment and walk around the drawn object in 3D.

Facebook 360

Working with Facebook, Samsung and 360 VR agency Visualise, a 360 camera installation was set up to stream live from the start line of the Hillclimb, where public audiences could not normally stand.

Visitors to FoS Future Lab were able to experience a BBC virtual-reality space walk

Visitors to FoS Future Lab were able to experience a BBC virtual-reality space walk

BBC “Home” Space Walk VR

Visitors were able to experience this virtual-reality space walk around the outside of the International Space Station using headsets and handheld controllers.

NASA photography 

Exhibited as full-scale prints, these images capture the advanced robot concepts being developed at NASA in the US.


British designed and built, Roborace's “Robocar” – which were on display during the event – is the world's first driverless electric racing car. And it’s beautiful too! 

Hyperloop One

A vision of the future where mass transportation is possible at airline speeds – for the price of a bus ticket. Tesla boss Elon Musk’s project is currently being tested in live tunnels.


These geo-located Augmented Reality signposts can be placed anywhere in the environment and viewed through a camera phone screen in the Skignz app.

Boom Supersonic

Boom Technology is making a supersonic airliner faster than Concorde, yet tickets will be affordable to the average  passenger. An 8ft model will be exhibited.

Solar Impulse

A long-range experimental solar-powered aircraft project, which develops research around cleaner technologies for fuelling transport solutions.

This article is taken from the Goodwood magazine, Summer 2017 issue

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