Porsche’s electric minivan will probably never make it to production, but that doesn’t mean the project was a bust. The company says that the Renndienst gave it a lot of insight into the future of car interiors, and it repeats the concept car trope claiming that when AVs and EVs outnumber ICE cars, interiors will basically be an extension of your couch.
The minivan’s cabin fits six people, and is completely unlike those of the company’s sports cars. Instead of being a focused, constrained space where drivers can pretend to be race car drivers (or Ken Masters,) the minivan’s cabin is what Porsche’s head of interior design, Markus Auerbach, calls an “area that invites relaxation, offering alternative seating positions for talking, working, and relaxing.”
In other words, a living room.
The driver’s seat swivels to face outside or inside with the flick of a switch, because even if the Renndienst might have had self-driving tech, Porsche imagined some of its drivers would still want to pilot the thing now and then, according to chief designer Michael Mauer:
“We don’t assume that our customers want to give up using a steering wheel,” says Mauer. But in order to be able to think freely about the future, boundaries must be crossed when carrying out these finger exercises. This, he says, is how the central driver position of the Renndienst came about. “When I want to drive, I have more cockpit feeling than in any other car. And when I don’t, the driver’s seat can be rotated 180 degrees – with one swivel, it turns to face the other passengers.”
Porsche calls the interior a “modular travel cabin,” because it can change depending on what the driver and passengers need from the space, but you can see how the design leans hard into the self-driving future. To be fair, if I was going to give up driving myself around, this cabin seems like a nice place to spend a lot of time in.
Porsche, however, is hardly the first to introduce modularity into car cabins. This concept might be a look into the future of interiors, but it still borrows from the past. As far back as the late ’60s, actually, because certain Chrysler Imperial coupés had swiveling front seats and a table for a mobile office.
Or, for a later example that’s closer in design to the Renndienst, there’s the Renault Espace, an MPV with swiveling seats that was around since the ’80s.
What sets this minivan apart is that it’s a modern Porsche, and mostly the possibility of autonomous operation. Still, the carmaker knows the importance of retaining control over the machine, so even in the AV future, it would keep some buttons and and discrete controls in the cabin, per Porsche:
For the interior designer, it is clear that there will still be switches and buttons in the future: “The balance between analogue and digital control panels is shifting. Nevertheless, haptic buttons in the vehicle cockpit are perfect because you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. However, if one day, as the driver, I have much less to do, that may change too. But we cannot solve everything through optics, because otherwise we lack dimensions.”
Overall, whether drivers want to give up control of their minivan or not, Porsche wanted to create a cabin that feels like a protective capsule, and I think they did that. I’m unsure where this minivan would fit amongst those from rival carmakers today, but in a few more years, when autonomous and electric cars are the norm, I think Porsche would do OK to revisit the Renndienst.