Johnson Controls' futuristic designs of self-driving vehicles include extra space with no steering wheel. (Johnson Controls)
Plymouth— The steering wheel could one day become history as self-driving vehicles progress, at least according to one executive at a global automotive supplier.
Han Hendriks, vice president of advanced product development for Johnson Controls’ automotive electronics and interiors business, said futuristic designs of self-driving vehicles include extra space because there is no need for a steering wheel or column. And that’s because the self-driving vehicle would receive almost no input from the driver.
That idea, however, is still decades from becoming reality.
“After 2025, the steering wheel will play a less dominant role in the interior,” Hendriks said from the company’s Plymouth campus on Tuesday. “With fully autonomous vehicles, you don’t have to be forward looking as a driver, you don’t need to have an instrument panel. Then you can really just think of a car as a box that you enter.”
Automakers are racing to create fully autonomous cars. Some believe the first completely self-driving car will come around by the end of the decade. And with the shift to driverless cars, many aspects of vehicles that have been celebrated during the last century — horsepower, torque and power steering, to name a few — will become less and less important.
And in Hendriks’ mind, so will the steering wheel.
Hendriks said during the next decade-plus, drivers will slowly defer complete control of the steering wheel back to the car through semi-autonomous features.
These include parking-assist feature: Ford Motor Co. recently showed off a car that can park itself without a driver inside the vehicle; Volvo and Nissan Motor Co. have similar technology. And lane-keep assist can keep a car within road lanes without consistent driver input.
In other words, drivers are already being weened off the wheel.
Hendriks also said Johnson Controls is already in the planning stages of overhauled interiors, and plans to meet with nine of its customers from China, Europe and North America next month to discuss the in-car future of self-driving vehicles. The company will also talk with industry experts and visionaries — but not yet drivers — to help refine future projects.
“It’ll help our vision become more robust,” Hendriks said. “It’s not as if we’re going to go out and ask consumers, because people just don’t think about it.”