There are two types of people in the world: Those who drive because they have to and those who drive because they want to.

But even driving enthusiasts don’t care much for traffic jams or the drudgery of daily commutes, hence the almost universal interest in various levels of autonomous driving capabilities.

By 2030, it’s likely numerous levels of self-driving features will be commercially available, but even so, the millions of car buffs and racing fans who love driving and racing are not going to just disappear in a decade and a half.

Many of these aficionados still will want to introduce their children to their passion.

And, automakers will be more eager than ever to appeal to these buyers because performance cars are high-profit, high-visibility products that will help distinguish their brands from a growing tide of faceless robot vehicles.

This thinking led WardsAuto to craft the assignment for our latest – and most exciting – student design competition:  Create a vehicle interior for a sports car that is distinctive, fun to drive on the track or open road, but also has autonomous capabilities for city commuting. Approximate production date: 2030.

The competition is sponsored by interior suppliers IAC and Lear, and it is WardsAuto’s seventh collaboration with Detroit’s prestigious College for Creative Studies, which has graduated many of the auto industry’s top designers.

The target demographic for this project is affluent professionals who are avid car enthusiasts. These are people who grew up racing cars and want to introduce their children to the joy of motorsports.

While this demographic is affluent, they live in major metropolitan areas where the cost of living is high and they must use their cars for daily commutes during the week as well as having fun on weekends. Commutes are long and crowded. This is where autonomous-driving features come in handy.  

We are asking the students to look at today’s sports cars that have strong brands and distinctive personalities for inspiration, from Chevy Corvettes, Ford Mustangs and Dodge Challengers to Porsches 911s, Mini Coopers and the Mazda Miata.  

Previous design projects with CCS have included a future family sedan, a fullsize 2025 pickup truck interior and an interior for a self-driving CUV.

The competition is done in conjunction with the 2016 WardsAuto Interiors Conference, which takes place May 11 at Detroit’s Cobo Center. The final student designs will be on display at the conference and at the upcoming SAE International World Congress.

The assignment is part of a semester-long class at CCS. The students compete for recognition and special scholarships. There is an award for best overall design and Lear and IAC also give special awards for the most innovative design feature and most eco-friendly interior concept.  

To prepare for the project, WardsAuto kicked things off with a visit to the North American International Auto Show in January.

Students and their instructor, Brian Stoeckel, a designer at General Motors, toured the show and studied numerous vehicles.

The NAIAS visit is important because we want the designs to be anchored within realistic boundaries. Every interior needs to seem credible and be based on technologies and materials that are envisioned to be in production in 2030.

This also means integrating the latest thinking about connectivity, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication.

As in past years, the judges will be top designers from a variety of OEMs.

The competition finalists will be announced at the SAE World Congress, and the winners of the grand award and special awards from IAC and Lear will be revealed at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference.

Stay tuned for regular updates on the students’ progress.

dwinter@wardsauto.com