Hyundai’s future does Porsche with tiller-less Prophecy
As with several models and concepts, Prophecy obtained a digital premiere in March, highlights Iain Robertson, and, unlike many design concepts, this one teases several ideas and features that Hyundai states it will productionise in coming years.
According to the Korean carmaker’s styling boss, Luc Donckerwolke, Prophecy has been inspired by vintage cars of the 1920s and 30s, albeit with more than a whiff of smooth, Porsche 911-like design visuals. Sweeping curves and smooth lines are set off by pixelated lighting, while the dynamic profile, prominent tail spoiler and propeller-shaped wheels are intended to reduce air resistance.
Hyundai has already declared its new design language that it calls ‘Sensuous Sportiness’ and its cabin, clad in dark colours, natural materials and textures, is the epitome of calm. It is a pathway walked and developed most effectively by Volvo and, while the two brands are quite divergent, it is pleasant to see another slant on a broadly similar topic.
Yet, Donckerwolke is keen to highlight the standalone values of Prophecy, a precept that purports to do things differently. One of Prophecy’s unique characteristics is the lack of an obvious steering mechanism. Rather than a steering wheel mounted high on the dashboard, ahead of the driver’ chest, Prophecy is controlled by a pair of joysticks, one located on the centre console, with the other on the door trim.
In the late-1980s, I was privileged enough to drive a prototype Saab 9000, in which the conventional steering wheel was replaced by a pair of joysticks. Negotiating Donington Park Racing Circuit at anything more than 40mph felt so alien that I spat out my comforter and sulked on the pit lane wall for twenty minutes! It is not a new concept, but it seems to comply with a future of autonomous motoring.
Naturally, Donckerwolke believes that such a system allows for a more comfortable seating position while driving, not least because it provides more space on the dashboard for ‘other features’. As with most modern steering wheels, around 90% of Prophecy’s functions can be controlled via buttons on the joysticks, which obviates a need for the driver to take his hands off the joysticks to change the music, adjust the sat-nav, or the climate controls. It is referred to as an Intuitive Human Interface, although I struggle to see how it benefits occupant safety, as well as enhancing visual freedom.
Of course, when we have become familiar with twirling a steering wheel, driving by way of applying a range of forces on a pair of joysticks is going to be unnatural. Many drivers are surprisingly introverted, which makes an ‘arms wide open’ driving position enforced by the positions of the controls even more awkward to deal with. However, if the driving position is unusual, the manner by which it can be adjusted is even more radical.
A new Smart Posture Care System (SPCS) allows drivers to enjoy an optimised seating position based on their individual physical characteristics. The driver can either adjust the seat manually to comply with personal preferences, or allow the car to suggest an ergonomically ‘smart’ seating position. The driver enters height, seated height and weight into an app and the car adjusts automatically to individual physical conditions, moving the seat, steering controls, mirror and Head-Up Display, all based on medically-verified information.
Continuing with the radical theme, the concept’s infotainment system is integrated into a large screen that stretches across the entire front of the vehicle’s interior. When not driving, the car can be used as an entertainment space by switching into Relax Mode, in which the seats recline and the dashboard swivels upwards, creating the optimal seating position from which to enjoy the content shown on the display. Due to the lack of a steering wheel, occupants have virtually no visual obstacles, with which to contend. Whoopee!
While I applaud forward-thinking car designers, quite why they all seem to insist on turning modes of personal transport into modern day Matcham Theatres continues to bamboozle me. They are all too willing to divert from the motorcar’s primary function, as a tool for a driver, to otherwise enhance its potential as a relaxation space. They all posit a theory that an autonomous future will mean that we need a diversionary tactic, to stop us worrying about a car crash resulting from conventional and self-driving technology mixing it on the same roadways.
Of course, Prophecy is a zero-emissions electric vehicle, employing another Saab-like development of cleaning the air in its vicinity. Thanks to an air filtration system, with a fine dust sensor built into the car’s hardware, when particle levels inside the vehicle get too high, the air cleansing system activates, taking in fresh air from the outside, filtering it for purity and, then, recirculating the clean air throughout the cabin. What goes around, literally, comes around three decades later!
In most cars, the driver or passenger would roll down a window, if they desired a breath of fresh air. With Prophecy, the air is always fresh, so the double-glazed windows, which both Citroen and Audi pioneered more than 20 years ago, are locked in place. When the air inside the vehicle is sensed as growing stale, fresh air is taken in through valves at the front of the car. When no fresh air inside the car is required, the filtered air is pumped back into the outside world through a pair of outlets at the bottom of the side doors. It is significantly more energy efficient than a traditional ventilation system.
Prophecy is the second Hyundai vehicle to be built on the Electric Global Modular Platform or ‘E-GMP’, which is Hyundai’s first dedicated EV platform. It opens up a world of possibilities for new design and comfort features. Electric powertrains are potentially more compact than their internal-combustion counterparts, meaning there is no need for a wide bonnet, or a bulky centre console, which allows automotive designers to reclaim the space for passenger use and to reimagine a range of in-car experiences. However, new car concepts are precisely that, no matter how much flouring-up is introduced by their creators. Donckerwolke is a design genius, make no mistake, but even Prophecy takes fantasy onto some familiar, as well as alien ground.