/ Motoring

Driving in the future – what does your fantasy car look like?

I recently read about Citroën’s competition to ‘design’ a special edition car, with the winning design going into production later this year. It got us talking about our ‘fantasy’ car features…

Citroën must be aware of the risks of letting ‘Joe Public’ design a car – if they aren’t, I’d suggest they watch The Simpsons episode where Homer has free reign to put his ‘ideal’ car into production…

In reality, this competition allows users to choose body and trim colour, choice of either alloy wheels and so on – rather like specifying a new car on any maker’s website.

But the idea triggered a discussion among the Which? Car team about what features – fantasy or real – they would like added to their ideal car. Here are a few of our ideas:

Top Gun visor display

Someone suggested a visor display – like the ones fighter pilots use – which would project all the info you needed on to the visor, right in front of your eyes.

Well, you can already ask for a ‘heads-up’ display – maybe the closest car-based equivalent – on a couple of cars I know of. This type of display projects the information directly on to the windscreen, meaning you can keep your head up and your eyes on the road.

This is a £1,240 option on the Audi A6, and Peugeot do it at a knock-down price – a mere £300 secures the option on some versions of the Peugeot 508.

Back to the future

Someone else suggested they’d like a ‘flux capacitor’ – the fantasy special component that allowed Doc Brown to take his DeLorean car backwards and forwards through time!

The problem is that even if we could provide one, it would be illegal on UK roads. The Back to the Future car’s flux capacitor required you to drive at 88mph before it ‘activated’ – triggering the time travel. In the UK, it would trigger three points and a ticket before moving you through the space-time continuum!

All aboard the motorway train

Nobody enjoys driving on motorways, so one team-mate said they’d like to see a conveyor-belt system installed (rather like the travelators at airports). It would allow you to drive on, then switch your engine off and relax until you arrived at your junction. You could read a book or even have a nap along the way.

This isn’t too far away from reality. When all cars are equipped with linked-up radar-based cruise control (to maintain safe distances and speeds), we will hopefully see ‘trains’ made up of cars on every motorway. And once we do, I predict it will allow us to get more cars along congested routes at much higher speeds, far more efficiently and safely.

Going backwards to go forwards

Personally, I think that last idea will eventually lead to driverless cars, presenting an opportunity as far as safety goes. It would allow all the car’s occupants to be positioned rearward-facing (the preferred way round for babies). In a front crash, a rear-facing occupant is better protected, since crash-loads are spread across the whole area of the seat back, and head- and neck-movement are far more effectively controlled.

Of course, you’d hope that driverless cars would be less likely to have crashes in the first place, thus making the rear-facing seats redundant.

Let us know what you think of our dream designs and what features (real or fantasy) you’d like to see fitted to the future’s cars. Remember, from the seeds of imagination comes invention!


Inspired by a recent discussion, I’m dreaming of a retro model – one with a full-size spare wheel. 🙂

I *love* the idea of ‘motorway conveyor belts’ and driverless cars. This might be a horrible idea for those who really enjoy the feeling of driving, but for me it would be absolute heaven – pile into a car with your friends/family, sit around having a chat and catching up, then arrive at your destination after minimum stress and hassle – brilliant!

Oh, and did I mention that it should fly?

I remember the old days of MotorRail, which wasn’t too bad, except for having to drive into central London, too slow loading/unloading and having to leave the comfort of your car for a long train journey in a grubby compartment with uncomfortable seats. Something fashioned on the Channel Tunnel trains, where you can stay in your car would be good.

The problem with road trains is that you can’t get out to stretch your legs, and think of the queues at Motorway service stations when we all pull up together. So maybe a car with a toilet, shower, buffet and newsagents?

Phil says:
1 May 2012

Motorail is still available across other parts of europe so maybe there is a case for re-introducing it in the UK. Modern rolling stock should make it more comfortable and reduce loading times and out of town terminals would make it more accessible.

I would like to see all roadside information, currently displayed on ugly street “furniture”: speed limits, directions, warnings, prohibitions, etc., etc., removed and transferred to discreet RFID tags. The information would be picked up by a small receiver in the vehicle and displayed on a heads-up screen, with the ability to recall the last 10 or so passed.

Big savings in sign installation, maintenance, crash damage and metal theft. Less obstables for pedestrians to walk into and more pleasant countryside roads and town centres. No more missed speed limits, taking the eyes off the road ahead, or having to ask the passenger: “What did that last sign say?”

That would be brilliant if it can be made to work, Em.

Unfortunately, many car manufacturers have not got to grips with electronics, which should be the most reliable part of a vehicle. Far too many motorists have warning lights indicating non-existent faults on their dashboard.

I think this is a brilliant idea, Em! I’d be very keen on this – also allows for really quick updating of info if e.g. speed limits change, etc.

Em says:
1 May 2012

Thank you Nikki – I’ve been thinking about how to do this for years. My original idea was to paint a 1-D barcode on the surface of the roads, with a barcode reader mounted under the car. So instead of driving over rubble strips, you would just drive over a barcode and it would flash up “Slow” or “30” on the heads-up. Primitive, but workable, even with 20-year old technologies.

As you say, it would now be much easier and cheaper to update speed limits, or change road signs to allow for road closures and diversions using modern systems.

But that’s why it’s a fantasy car, Wavechange!

Anyway, I’d see it as an after-fitment to begin with, rather like a sat nav, as all road users would need one. Perhaps someone like Apple or Hewlett Packard (the old company who really knew how to make precision electronics) could produce them.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Sadly, most people have not experienced the quality of HP’s lab/industrial grade products, only their cut-price consumer products.

Sadly, no, but you can still buy their RPN calculators. I’m on my 3rd dating from 1986, and thinking of getting another before they stop production altogether.

My introduction to Hewlett Packard was the HP 9100A and HP 9100B desktop programmable electronic calculators, dating from the late 60s/early 70s. I used these as a student and still have magnetic ‘credit cards’ used for recording programs. RPN seemed much easier on these desktop calculators with three registers than on the new-fangled HP35 and subsequent pocket RPN calculators with a single display.

I had no idea that HP RPN calculators are still available. Please forgive me for going off-topic, Dave. It was a severe case of nostalgia.

Em says:
1 May 2012

Maybe Which? could run a Conversation and poll on different calculator notatations – then we could carry on. Newer HPs way show several of the stack registers in the display at the same time, so they are easier to use.

A Conversation on calculator notations? I’m not sure that one’s going to happen Em 😉

My fantasy car would fly, not require driving and would have a full entertainment system.

RPN (reverse Polish notation) was not to everyone’s taste but certainly had/has its enthusiasts – maybe the calculator equivalent of Marmite.

My fantasy car would work out the best route from spoken commands, know never to exceed speed limits and be powered by renewable energy.

One thing that needs updating is a method of keeping the windscreen clear in all weather conditions. I hate squeeking, greasy wipers. I’d envisage something like one of those Dyson hand driers that blasts away water droplets before they have a chance to settle.

Now there is a useful suggestion, though a blast of air might be a bit noisy.

When I was a student I silanised glass to make it water repellant, so that emptying water out of a beaker left it completely dry – amazing. I tried this on the back window of my father’s car but it did not work.

Phil says:
30 April 2012

Something which is solid and reliable with sensibly sized tyres which don’t cost a fortune and where the owner can change things like light bulbs without having to take it to a garage. Not weighed down with useless gadgets and fitted with proper bumpers that can take a few knocks too.

But that has been done in the past. The car manufacturers have deemed that we need progress. 🙂

par ailleurs says:
1 May 2012

How about a car which absolutely won’t let you speed in urban areas? It could be fitted with an over-ride for real emergencies, whatever they might be. If this was used you would have to justify its use to the authorities.
Otherwise, we’ve now got most things that I used to dream of 40 years ago. My car sits outside all year, doesn’t rust, starts first time every time, will protect me in quite a severe crash and gets me from A to B without any fuss whatsoever. Great!

Em says:
1 May 2012

Almost agree – I’d prefer a car that won’t let others speed. I can usually be trusted to drive at a reasonable speed for the road conditions, but it will keep others off my tail.

Also, what kind of car do you have? Mine wouldn’t start after about 500 miles. The garage said I had to put something called “petrol” in the tank???

par ailleurs says:
1 May 2012

Sorry Em, I fear that petrol is here to stay. There will have to be a serious forward leap in e.g. battery technology before the electric car becomes a viable proposition for those of us who live in the real world i.e. not in a big city centre.
As for current alternatives there’s only hybrid cars. I have to say though, I did once drive home from western Brittany via the Cherbourg ferry, starting out with about 1/2 tank of petrol. It was a French holiday but I’d been assured that busy routes would have petrol stations open. Yea, right! A few did and those only had diesel. Keeping my speed to around 55mph and driving gently I did it and filled up in Portsmouth. It goes to show what is possible with current technology if you ask it nicely.
In real world thinking I find it quite difficult to predict what might happen in the future. There must be loads of stuff in preparation. Consider what was cutting edge 40 years ago (not that long really) in everything, not just cars and look at where we are now. All we know is that the future will be really interesting and I hope I’m still around to see some of it.

My fantasy car is one that is actually just a car. I don’t need tons of fancy gizmos for the sake of “progress” and actually what most of you are describing here is personal planes, trains or motorrail.

If driving is such a chore (as in, you want all electronic aides to help) then you shouldn’t really be on the road, you should be on a train.

The only improvement/fantasy part I would want is one that makes cars use petrol/diesel more efficiently, like the Fisker. In other words, showing up the current hybrid/electric offering for what it is, useless.

True – that’s why I take the train, Dean! But the main point is that if cars can be made to work in a way that requires no input from the driver (other than maybe inputting a destination) you have the relaxation of a train but the door-to-door convenience of a car.

I suspect it would also make other road users much safer, as I am a spectacularly awful driver. I take the train for the safety and comfort of others.

I’m fine with that, it’s just that what you are describing is not a car. Believe me, I have had many thoughts over the years related to this, then they built something like it at Heathrow – http://www.ultraglobalprt.com/

In a “car” that requires no input from the “driver”, this means that the system has to rely on sat-navs or entirely dedicated roads. Considering that currently I am driving a brand new Mini with SatNav that doesn’t include roads that have been complete for over 2 years, I have my doubts about this.

I agree with the dream, but realistically, only if you build new estates with direct pod access to the town/city centre and/or railway station will it be viable. Considering that new build estates only build the very cheapest of infrastructure, the likelyhood of this happening is very slim.

Sorry Nikki, I’m not much of a dreamer, more of a cynic! 🙂

I love the idea of driverless cars! Program in a destination and let it take you there. This could open up car travel to the blind and others who may not be able to drive otherwise.

Practicalities aside, my true fantasy car would fly, be able to travel in space (you never know when it could be handy) and fold up to the size of suitcase between uses – preferably whilst making the ‘transformers’ sound.

By the time the technology exists to build flying cars, technology will have also reduced the need for mid-distance travel – so perhaps we won’t need cars at all. The only transport in use would be the shipping of food, materials and products. Us humans would simply live richer lives but within smaller circles.

We have had flying car technology since 1946, the only reason that we do not have them, and have no plans to implement them is safety.

Look at the carnage on our roads today, can you really imagine us all driving our cars through the sky, the only benefits would be a drastic reduction in the worlds population 🙂

Unfortunately it has proved impractical to produce a modern version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The problems relate to compliance with emission regulations, lack of a warning light to indicate that the vehicle is airborne and absence of suitable NCAP tests for use above ground.

Tony Purpose says:
5 May 2012

I envisage a time when car bodies are made of a synthetic rubber-type material which wouldn’t bash, break or dent. The car initially would be a two-seater but this material when inflated would then allow for four or more passengers. Fully deflated it would fit into a smallish garden shed.

Lorna says:
21 July 2016

I wonder is the big sticking point the idea of one person/one family/one (or more) cars? What if the whole cost of travel involved payments to different management centres for different stages of a journey, rather than viewing and buying one particular car? And what if each village/town/city had a huge store of driverless vehicles of different sizes (one person-plus-shopping, family of five-plus-pets etc) that could be ‘called up’ (a bit like bicycle ‘renting’, but with a more manageable computer-based payment system). If an ‘out-of-town’ journey was required, there might be a link-up car-train thing that involved a sort of magnetic handshake, with decoupling signals at regular intervals so that individual cars could exit. At the moment, a 25 mile journey in the rush hour could take up to one hour from door to door, so I can’t see that it would be a problem if these car-trains were like the old fashioned slow ones. (Except that emergency systems would have to be planned as well.) Having said all that, there is no getting around the sat-nav problem that Dean refers to.