Every year Frank Rinderknecht’s Swiss company Rinspeed creates a concept car that defies belief. In 2007, they launched the eXasis, a car made entirely of high-strength plastic. Three years before that the company unveiled the Splash, a car that turned into an amphibious vehicle at the flick of a switch. Rinspeed’s latest two cars are no less spectacular: The sQuba—which will be featured in NextWorld, a new Discovery Channel documentary series—is a submersible car converted from a Lotus Elise; and the iChange, unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show this month, can go from being a single to a triple-seater at the push of a button. In an email interview, Rinderknecht talks to Lounge about his cars and concepts. Edited excerpts:
Where do you get the ideas for these fascinating cars? Each of them seems to have a theme and concept. What is the genesis for these ideas?
Wonder car: (from top) Rinderknecht constructs one concept a year; the sQuba was inspired by Bond movies; and the sQuba comes with on-board breathing apparatus. Photographs by Rinspeed
Well, sQuba is a dream come true. You might have seen the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me, where they used several fictitious cars. Our goal was to make this car like one of those, so that the car can actually dive, and the sQuba is the first car that can do this. First thing was to make it dive, yet more importantly, to make it come back up. And we had to carefully study submarines and all the technology that goes around submarines to make it dive. The car design includes the motors; we use electric ones. We have five motors on the sQuba, which take care of propelling it both on the road and under water. Contrary to a submarine, where you enclose people, in the sQuba you get wet. Which means that you have to use a breathing apparatus like you use for scuba diving. We have two air tanks in the car which help the drivers in breathing.
How difficult is it to take a car such as the Lotus Elise and convert it into a submersible? In general, you seem to aim for very complicated engineering challenges.
The base was a Lotus Elise and we could not use the entire engine and everything else because we had to go under water. So we installed a complete indoor multi-system which is electric, so the car was emission free under water. It is an aluminium chassis and it is a plastic body, and there is enough buoyancy that it does not sink while on the surface. Nobody dares to do this but we are the first company who dared to try it and succeeded.
Tell us a little about your latest car: the iChange.
The iChange is the world’s first car whose body adapts to the number of passengers on board. The vehicle is more than just a clever concept car. We have brought the themes of versatility and continually changing energy demands to their logical conclusions. The result is a streamlined, lightweight zero-emission car with dramatically reduced energy consumption.
Do you see your innovations going mainstream? Have you been approached by large car makers who want to adopt your ideas?
We always have a lot of individuals interested in our work. But cars like the sQuba are not meant for production. They are meant to be prototypes to just showcase the technology.
Also, have you been selling many of your concept cars? Or do you prefer to make them once a year as an engineering project?
We are a concept car company. Maybe somebody else might want to take it up, get a licence for the know-how and put it into production. But from our side, we do not want to see that. If we were to sell it, of course, it would need to have high quality standards, need to perform robustly and perform well. But I like to think that we purely specialize in prototyping.
What other concepts is your team working on?
We are trying to design Butterfly, a new concept car which can fly!
Each Rinspeed is a joint project between a number of companies. Tell us a little about how you pick, choose and collaborate with so many partners?
The basic idea is to choose partners and companies depending on the project. Some components are a must, like tyres, and we require them in all the cars. But certain auto components are needed for specific cars, hence partners may change as per requirements.
And finally, what’s your favourite non-Rinspeed car? And your favourite Rinspeed car?
My personal transportation vehicle is the Mini Cooper and Mercedes SLK.
As far as Rinspeed cars are concerned, they are like my children. They are all different but I love them equally.
NextWorld airs on the Discovery Channel every Thursday at 9pm.