Volkswagen’s head of design, Klaus Bischoff, recently claimed that autonomous cars would be the beginning of the end of the current SUV and crossover trend, according to AutoExpress. It’s a surprising statement to be made this early in the autonomous evolution, and he just might be wrong.
Let’s get Bischoff’s own words out of the way first, quoted by AutoExpress:
“At the moment we see the rise of SUVs, and the descent of limousines [saloons] and MPVs,” Bischoff told Auto Express. “We’ve found something that attracts people, that answers a question customers maybe didn’t even know they had.”
“Maybe SUVs will start to look old at some point and people will point at them and say, ‘He’s driving a dinosaur.’ We don’t see that now, but I strongly believe that we’re going to see much different vehicles when we get to Level Five autonomy, and then it becomes much more open.”
I have no doubt that vehicles capable of Level Five autonomy will look vastly different from what we drive today, with Level Five being the highest rank in the hierarchy of self-driving cars—meaning the driver is no longer a driver, but a user that isn’t expected to have any control over the vehicle.
But that doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the SUV or crossover, and for multiple reasons.
The most blatantly obvious is one of the biggest selling points behind the SUV craze, which is a feeling of safety. Why do people like to buy these huge machines? Because they make them feel safe.
SUVs and, to some extent, crossovers are attractive to consumers because their large size and high-riding design offers people a sense of security, and that’s exactly what people are going to want out of their autonomous cars. Feeling bigger than everything else on the street is going to provide a confidence that, should something go wrong out of your control, you’ll still be safer than if you were in a lower, smaller car.
The second major argument to be considered for SUVs surviving the self-driving evolution is space. Bischoff even touches on the unprecedented level of freedom designers will have with electric, autonomous cars thanks to the removal of many chunky components we see in current automobiles.
SUVs and crossovers are going to offer more head room and cargo space over smaller cars, just like they do now, whether a human or computer is driving them. When it comes to luxury, a bigger passenger area is going to continue to be a big selling point. Especially when fuel economy and, cough, emissions are no longer point-of-sale concerns.
Sure, somebody seen driving an SUV in a few decades down the road may be mocked as a “dinosaur,” but the sense of security and ability for more passenger and cargo space is likely going to ensure that SUVs are going to continue to be favored by many over smaller cars, whoever or whatever is driving them.