Professor Dr. Ferdinand Dudenhöffer from the University of Duisburg-Essen is considered the German “Car Pope.” No matter whether it’s the diesel gate scandal, car tolls or the future of the electric car: there is hardly an automotive topic on which Dudenhöffer can’t voice a clear, expert opinion. We spoke to him about autonomous driving, connected vehicle interiors and the importance of innovative materials.
Dr. Dudenhöffer – thank you for taking time for us today. If I may ask: how did you get to the university this morning?
I drove here in my car.
Do you like driving? Does anything bother you about it?
Well, I live in the Ruhr Area where every morning the radio is full of traffic jam warnings. There’s usually about 200 kilometers of traffic jams in North Rhine-Westphalia, which puts a damper on driving pleasure. I like driving in theory, but not so much in the Ruhr Area.
No one likes being stuck in a traffic jam. It’s almost a blessing the autonomous driving trend is becoming a reality for the near future. What do you think: are German drivers ready to let a computer drive?
It takes some getting used to. After that, I’m sure no one will want to go back to the times of camping out behind the steering wheel. Just like how we wouldn’t want to give up our smartphones, GPS, automatic parking, cruise control and much more, we’ll soon feel the same way about driving without a steering wheel. We’ll fall in love with it.
Displays and touchscreens are ubiquitous in almost all vehicle classes. What challenges do car manufacturers face in interior design?
Look, if we’re really in a machine-driven car without a steering wheel, we’re getting richer. We’re earning the most precious commodity in the world: time. So we can do useful things in the car – read something, work on a tablet, make a call without being distracted, watch a movie or just enjoy the scenery. This requires a completely new interior. Our interiors today are geared to the steering wheel and the driver. In the future, the passengers will be the center – because there will only be passengers.
Do you think that material manufacturers like SCHOTT can help shape the automotive interior of the future?
I’m sure of it. Glass and interior lighting can conjure up atmospheres. Work atmospheres, moods that stimulate relaxation or creativity. After all, SCHOTT and other innovative companies don’t sell mere products, but rather the means to “produce” customer benefits. And customer benefits are limitless. Even in Bavaria.
What influence do new materials like glass have on the automotive interior?
They have to “shield” from heat, “insulate” from cold, inspire creativity and modern comfort, make avant-garde and innovation “tangible.” You have to give designers as many degrees of freedom as possible. To sum it up: innovative materials will shape the “new car”. Haptics, acoustics, design language, fresh and healthy heating and cooling are the variables developers need to optimize for the interior materials of future cars.
How would you like a glass center console or fully glass faucets? Would that impress a car expert like you?
I’d like it, but remember: only the fish has to like the worm, not the fisherman. I’m unimportant. The focus is on the customer of the future.
Thank you for the interview.