Volkswagen Introduces GEN.TRAVEL, A Self-Driving Innovation Experience Vehicle

Volkswagen has taken the wraps off its latest concept vehicle. Named GEN.TRAVEL, it is a battery electric “Level 5” autonomous device that the company describes as an Innovation Experience Vehicle. The inelegantly named GEN.TRAVEL will provide a Mobility as a Service experience for up to four pampered passengers. To hear Volkswagen tell it, the concept could be a dandy substitute for short-range air travel or maybe as an alternative to the Nightjet high-speed train service coming to parts of Europe. Here’s what the company has to say about its latest creation.

Meet The Volkswagen GEN.TRAVEL

With GEN.TRAVEL, the Volkswagen Group has developed an iconic, innovation-packed study that constitutes a completely new vehicle category in the premium portfolio between sedan and multi purpose Vehicle). “With its NEW AUTO strategy, Volkswagen defines the mobility for generations to come — sustainable and digital,“ says Dr. Nikolai Ardey, head of Volkswagen Group Innovation.

“In the group-wide Volkswagen Innovation Research department, we are further advancing this idea, showing how our customers will be able to experience mobility in the future. With GEN.TRAVEL, we can already experience today what will be possible in the near future with innovative technology. Door-to-door travel at a new level. Emission-free and stress-free.”

The GEN.TRAVEL drives autonomously and turns the driver into a relaxed passenger who has time for other things: Work. Relaxation. Entertainment. Family. Klaus Zyciora, head of Volkswagen Group Design says, “The GEN.TRAVEL offers us a glimpse of the travel of the future. It shows us what autonomous driving will look like in the future. The GEN.TRAVEL embodies the visionary design of beyond tomorrow for the mobility of tomorrow. Efficient shaping characterizes the extremely distinctive design. Thus, in an age of technical perfection and virtually unlimited possibilities, ‘form follows function’ becomes ‘form follows freedom’. The automobile will not only be better, but also more exciting than ever before.”

The GEN.TRAVEL has a unique, modular interior concept that can be customized for each journey and booked as a Mobility as a Service offering. Depending on the configuration, up to four people can be transported in the concept vehicle. For business trips, the conference setup with four comfortable seats and a large table in the middle of the interior provides relaxed surroundings. Dynamic lighting creates a pleasant working environment and avoids the danger of motion sickness. A configuration in the overnight setup allows the conversion of two seats into two beds that can be folded out to a full-flat position.

An innovative passenger restraint system ensures maximum safety even in a lying position. The GEN.TRAVEL lighting system influences melatonin production to help passengers fall asleep and wake up naturally. For family trips, the GEN.TRAVEL with front seats can be configured to entertain the children using augmented reality. The interior is light with a natural design. All human-machine interface elements are produced using sustainable materials combined with recycled or natural materials.

The futuristic exterior of the GEN.TRAVEL is divided into two parts. The transparent, glass cabin is perfectly incorporated into the lower section, which houses all the technical features. The edge of the window is at waist level, making it very low so as to maximize the view of the outside. At the same time, when passengers are lying down flat in the car, they do not experience any external influences. The wing doors of the GEN.TRAVEL facilitate better entry and exit.

For maximum comfort, the GEN.TRAVEL has active suspension eABC — electric Active Body Control — that calculates vertical and lateral movements such as acceleration, braking, or cornering ahead of time, and optimizes the driving style and trajectory accordingly. Artificial intelligence and platooning — fully autonomous driving in convoys — are used to further increase the range for long distance journeys.

Well, with that rather breathless introduction, what exactly are we looking at here? The folks at Autoblog have this to say: “Whatever you think a Volkswagen should look like, this isn’t it. The concept breaks all ties with the company’s design language and instead adopts a highly futuristic look that would fit right in at the Consumer Electronics Show. Tellingly, it’s not branded as a Volkswagen in the same sense as the GTI or the ID.Buzz. It wears ‘Volkswagen Group’ emblems on both ends rather than the VW logo.”

As to where exactly this Level 5 autonomy might come from — many have tried but none have succeeded in full autonomy outside of a closed loop or geofenced environment — Autoblog notes that Volkswagen is collaborating with Argo.AI on experimental self-driving technology.

The GEN.TRAVEL was on display last week at the Chantilly Arts & Elegance show outside Paris, where Zyciora said, “As a research vehicle, the purpose of the Gen.Travel is to test the concept and new functionalities for customer response. Based on the study results, individual features may later be transferred to series vehicles.”

The GEN.TRAVEL Takeaway

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Courtesy of Volkswagen Group

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Courtesy of Volkswagen Group

Squint a little and the GEN.TRAVEL looks a little like the people mover rendition we have seen from Tesla and the Cruise Origin, among many other self driving vehicles envisioned by various manufacturers. Frankly, there isn’t a lot of room for distinctive design language in such transportation pods, which are really little more than boxes on wheels.

Executive editor and CleanTechnica grand poohbah Zachary Shahan wrote an article recently that dared wonder aloud whether this whole autonomous vehicle, transportation-as-a-service model has any real-world validity outside of large metropolitan areas, and maybe not even then.

I had a chance to ponder this myself this summer while driving to Newport, Rhode Island, to go sailing on Narragansett Bay. What are the odds that someday I will open my TaaS app and a four-wheeled horizontal elevator will appear at my front door when I want it to, take me to any destination I choose, then pick me up after a day on the water, whisk me to my BnB of choice for the evening, collect me in the morning to go to breakfast at Gary’s Handy Lunch on historic Thames Street, then whisk me home when I have finished my morning omelet?

If you said, “slim to none,” go the head of the class. There is no way any company could do all that profitably at a price I would consider reasonable. People get all jiggely at the thought of robotaxis and TaaS, but the reality is, these are things that may never come to pass, and if they do, will be too expensive for mere mortals to afford.

So, kudos to Volkswagen for thinking outside the box — some would say way outside the box. There is always a need for such daring flights of fancy. But not in this lifetime will such vehicles exist. And even if they do become available, will there be a compelling business case for them? That seems unlikely.


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