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Robo-taxis, underwater cars, cozy cuddling pods, Rinspeed is today best known for its futuristic concepts. But, in actual fact, the Swiss car visionary Frank M. Rinderknecht and the company he founded, have been mesmerising the motor industry for the last four decades. He’s taken time out from his busy schedule to offer up his thoughts to Auto Futures.

Though he started out studying mechanical engineering, Rinderknecht never finished his studies. Instead he decided to follow his passion for individualised mobility and founded Rinspeed back in 1977. He began by importing sunroofs from the U.S. and converting cars for handicapped drivers. Rinderknecht tells us: “I did not intend or even thought that I would be doing this for all my professional life. It simply happened and I followed my (still today) philosophy to do what I love most. That I will do well, success will follow so probably also money. But it doesn’t work the other way around.”

For the last forty years, Rinspeed has been showing off what it calls its ‘novelty’ cars at the Geneva International Motor Show. In the past it’s unveiled vehicles such as the world’s first diving car, the ‘sQuba’. Its latest concept is called the ‘Snap’ which is an autonomous robo-taxi. However, ‘Snap’ may soon move from concept to reality as Rinspeed recently announced plans to develop the project further by launching a start-up called Snap Motion.

“We feel that there is a tremendous potential in defining a new and disrupting type of mobility vehicle which address not only the defaults of robo-taxis, but also shows a viable solution for merging the two much different life-spans of mechanical and safety relevant IT components. And we want to explore this avenue and its potential. If you do not tread a path, you will never find the destination.”

The Future of Motor Shows

For Rinspeed, fairs such as Geneva remain important. But Rinderknecht believes that they may well have to change in the near future. “Looking at the rapidly growing list of the ‘no-shows’, I could see that the show formats need to be changed and/or adjusted and possibly – over the years – some shows will disappear altogether. The times of the long waiting lists for exhibitors are past – even in Geneva.”

He adds: “I can see a certain role for automotive, but also the need of shorter, therefore cheaper, more compact and reformatted version. The OEM’s are looking for new opportunities with more direct focus.”

Painting a picture of the future of the industry as a whole, Rinderknecht predicts that a lot of new players such as Amazon and China’s Alibaba will enter the mobility market. And he has this warning for the more traditional companies: “Whatever company does not understand all the various disrupting elements, anticipate them and proactively act will be ‘drowned’ in the torrent. The likelihood for newcomers – especially from the IT sector – to survive seems to be higher than from rigid and often old-fashioned corporate thinking.”

Safety Issues

In terms of public safety concerns around AVs, he has this to say: “Perception and reality many times in life do not match. In the long run, automated vehicles will bring down the number of accidents and fatalities. But, it is completely wrong to think that machines will ever be functioning 100% reliable or safe.”

“We accept 1.2m fatalities worldwide per year without a say, but do not accept, allow nor tolerate the machine to fail. Not even one time. There will be lots of respective educational work to be done which will be a long and difficult process.”

In the short term, he says that Rinspeed will continue doing what it’s good at – re-imagining the future. “It seems that we cannot get out of our role anymore and the expectancy rate grows every year. But yes, we will continue to highlight what we feel will shape the future of mobility.” So get ready to expect the unexpected once more at the motor show in Geneva next year.

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