Mercedes Plots Turning the Car Into a Luxury Lounge

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Mercedes-Benz aims to transform the car into a rolling luxury lounge that chauffeurs passengers autonomously.

In the F 015 concept vehicle, the front seats can swivel to the rear as the steering wheel recedes into the instrument panel and the car takes control. Sculpted open-pore walnut wood veneers and ice-white leather add to the chill-out ambiance of the interior, while six screens allow passengers to interact with the machine via touch, hand gestures and eye-tracking.

“The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space,” said Dieter Zetsche, chief executive officer of Mercedes parent Daimler AG. He presented the vehicle today at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The so-called Luxury in Motion prototype is part of an effort by upscale automakers to counter Google Inc.’s push for self-piloting cars as big-city congestion makes the thrill of driving less of a selling point. An automated Audi A7 concluded a 560-mile (900-kilometer) journey in Las Vegas today, while last year the Volkswagen AG unit tried to show that automation and performance can go hand in hand by showing an unmanned RS7 driving at racing speeds.

French Doors

Mercedes plans to bring some of the technology in its futuristic prototype to the streets soon, offering an option for automated highway driving before the end of the decade. The feature will allow the vehicle to steer itself at speeds as fast as 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour. That would follow the Stop&Go Pilot that takes control in traffic jams and is already being rolled out in vehicles from the C-Class sedan to the S-Class.

The Mercedes highway feature is similar to a super cruise control system from General Motors Co., which plans to equip Cadillac cars with the technology from 2017.

In the Mercedes concept car, the expansive interior of the sedan is made possible by a 3.6-meter (12-foot) wheelbase, which is nearly two feet longer than the standard S-Class. There’s also no support pillar between the front and rear doors, which swing outward from the center like French doors to make getting in and out easier.

If the driver does want to take control of the vehicle, she can turn toward the front, and the steering wheel will slide automatically from the dashboard. Still, the car isn’t really designed to be driven but rather to let the passengers interact with each other and the outside world while in transit.

“It really feels great to work for a company that is crazy enough to finally bring this vision of driver-free mobility closer to reality,” Zetsche said.