Improvements in the Automotive Industry 3/3: Elevated Rear Seats
Children aren’t idiots, and neither are we when it comes to preference in car seating — nobody wants to seat in the back. Unless you are being chauffeured in the back of a Maybach, a Phantom, or others alike, rear passengers are treated like second-class seatizens. The view is always obscured by the front seats and it gets exponentially narrower as you move away from it, so forget about taking nice pictures during a road trip. The legroom is also compromised due to the shallow floor and there is not enough storage.
After some research and reminiscing all the auto shows that I’ve watched or attended, I have not found any concept or production car that offered elevated rear seating that will raise the passengers in the back above the horizon and treat them like kings. Why not? Trains do it, buses do it, movie theatres and opera houses do it, so why shouldn’t cars do that as well?
I designed the concept below that in my opinion could be the next-generation 2022 Tesla Model X and become a standard for SUVs. The sliding doors are no news, but they seemed to be the perfect solution to allow easy in-and-out access for the high rear seats and in tight parking spots. Also, the area under the back seats could be used for storage or more batteries.
The Visual Field of View
Below you may see the anatomy of the design showing the visual field of front and rear passengers. As you can see the rear passengers will have a clear view ahead of them, overlooking the headrests of the front seats.
NOTE: Any overlap you see of bodies with seats is intentional since these are sport bucket seats with depth. The same holds with the roof — there is actually over 6 inches (15cm) of headroom above the rear passenger.
Meanwhile, in ALL Other Cars
Below is a diagram borrowed from a page in the book titled “H-Point: The Fundamentals of Car Design & Packaging.” It shows seating arrangement in almost all other car types, and you can already see a pattern.
Our Design: The View From Rear Seats
Now you can see the view from the rear passenger’s perspective. You will also see a superwide, infinity LED screen stretching the entire width of the car’s interior and it has a circular hole for the steering wheel column to come through (just like the holes and notches on smartphone screens). The rear-view mirror is integrated digitally and is connected to two cameras: one on the inside to monitor kids, another one is in the back of the car to show traffic.
The View From Driver’s Eye Level:
You can now see how the LED screen completes the view of the road ahead, with a panoramic set of cameras located on the tip of the nose of the car. This is helpful to avoid curbs when parking and it also improves visibility and offers a more pleasant view of what’s ahead (potholes, small animals, etc.). The screen is touch-sensitive and can be configured to show maps, movies, A/C controls, user manuals, and other useful features.
A Close-up Showing the LED Screen
In the image below, further to the left in the blurry background, you can see how the steering wheel column protrudes through the large LED screen through a round opening, similar to Samsung Galaxy’s camera hole.
This will resemble a view from most helicopters, where the pilot has a near full 180º view around him both vertically and horizontally:
Another way to achieve this feel would be to have an even taller screen/monitor (slightly curved, like the other one), and push it further towards the front of the car, behind the pedals! It’ll be as if the car’s firewall is transparent and there is nothing separating you from the road.
In conventional cars, the horizontal beam connecting the A-pilars in the roof right above the windshield (sometimes called roof header or bow) is needed for structural rigidity and crash protection and in our case, it will have to be pushed back to allow for a larger windshield to give more visibility to the rear passengers.
Luckily, auto manufactures have proven this possible with at least two production cars that have a panoramic windshield:
Tesla Model X
Opel Astra (Vauxhall Astra in Australia and Saturn Astra in the US)
Where is the Front Passenger's Airbag?
There are at least two ways this could be resolved!
With today’s thin and flexible displays (found in foldable smartphones) it is possible to make a horizontal seam on the part of the display that sits before the front passenger, and the airbag unit will be housed behind the display. In case of a collision, the flexible display will rip allowing the airbag to inflate through, just like the hard plastic covers do in modern cars. The screen could also not have a seam, and instead, break at the top or bottom edge of the frame.
Another way would be to use a projection screen, as the old DLP TVs, and have the airbag rip through the thin film.
Are Tilt Steering Wheels Welcome?
YES! Tilting could be done past the hole in the steering weel, closer to the driver, and a cardan (a universal joint) can be used to allow for the steering wheel to tilt by its base.
Alternatively, there are other cuts possible to allow for more leg room and movement for the wheel and its column, see below:
Any Legroom Left Under that Giant Display? How About a Glove Box, Arm Rests, A/C Vents, and Other Storage? Think of the children!
Excellent array of questions, thanks for asking!
- Legroom would be fine if we push the display further towards the front of the car, OR, we can make a C-shape notch/cut (more like an upside-down U) around the steering wheel column for more legroom like the new iPhones have on the top of their screens.
- Storage could be located on the doors and in the center console which will be possible to slide in and out of its place under and behind the LED screen, like an office drawer.
- Armrests could be mounted on the seats and fold down like we’ve had in older generation cars and some of the new ones (minivans, some SUVs).
- A/C vents could be integrated in the frame/rim of the LED display. For instance, Tesla Model 3 has a wide narrow strip that houses all the middle air ducts within it. The ducts for legs and the windshield could be located at their traditional spots.
- Car seats: To install a child’s car seat the rear seats of the car can come down to be leveled with the front seats so that the back of the child seat can rest on the back of the front driver or passenger seats.
Also, be mindful that this is just a concept and needs further development and engineering solutions, like how to fit those giant windows into those tapered doors, how to make sure the car is safe and rigid without the B-pillars, etc.
Nevertheless, as a product designer of nine years, I strongly believe that this is the direction the future of SUVs is headed, and maybe this design will make its way into sedans (a.k.a. “saloons” for our transatlantic cousins), wagons and minivans, making the life in the back a little less miserable.
Did I mention that the steering wheel’s diameter and grip width are adjustable? Read part 2 of my series in automotive innovations for that!
As an inspiration for this design, I’ve used my own car — Tesla Model 3. Before owning this car, I was skeptical of electrics or hybrids, due to range anxiety, poor looks and materials coupled with high costs (Nissan Leaf, BMW i3), power delivery vs range and my general principle that nothing will replace the sound and power of a V8.
I’ve owned and driven luxury, muscle and sports cars some with 500hp and a manual transmission, but I enjoyed driving my Tesla the most. Its minimalist styling, low center of gravity, high torque, 200+ mile range, and virtually 0 maintenance surpass any other cars in their performance and comfort features for the price and cost of ownership and the fun factor, of course.
It seems that the most important concerns on the topic of transportation design have been addressed for this design. Neither safety nor fun has been compromised to achieve this look and feel.
I thank you for reading and invite you to join me in a discussion of this new design in the comment section below.