Rinspeed founder reveals concept car details, warns big firms that fail to see industry future

Swiss visionary Frank M. Rinderknecht has been contemplating a conundrum that many in the auto industry – at least the far-sighted – realize is relatively quickly coming down the pipe.

The question is: As technology develops exponentially, particularly when self-driving cars hit the road, how can you marry those rapid changes to the average lifespan of a car?

Rinderknecht, founder and CEO of Zurich-based Rinspeed Inc., will unveil his concept design at the Consumer Technology Association CES event in Las Vegas in January. His concept is called Snap, and the idea is to separate technology that will rapidly develop from longer-lasting parts of the vehicle.

In a webinar organized by Automotive News, Rinderknecht was joined by industry consultant Uli Muench to discuss the new concept, mobility in the future and which auto companies are likely to survive.

Snap is not Rinderknecht's first concept vehicle. This will be his 27th, and he told webinar listeners that his "big headache" is lack of space at his Zurich facility.

During the webinar, Rinderknecht talked about the difference between shelf life of technological hardware, rendered obsolete by rapid software developments in a few years, and that of a car today, which has an average life of eight years in the U.S. but can be 18 and more. 

The Swiss inventor's idea is to have a fully automated, intelligent chassis and a body that can be lifted off and last for the entire lifetime of a normal car.

Rinderknecht and Muench, global vice president with the Automotive Industry Business Unit at SAP, also talked in more general terms of the future of auto firms, and both had words of warning for the big companies.

Auto companies are posting record sales numbers, Muench said. "If they are not agile or fast they may become a victim," he added.

Rinderknecht, who described a recent visit to a factory floor near Detroit as feeling "like going back in time," largely echoed that view. He said that some auto companies have not reached their "pain level," and by the time that happens they may have missed out.

"Companies open to new things ... they can survive ...those being too fat and lazy, too happy with themselves, will drop out," he said.

And in an allusion to driving on a highway, Rinderknecht said, "Time is passing you on the right-hand side – and the left-hand side."

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Rinspeed Strubenacher 2 Zumikon, ZH