As car design pushes ahead, will rear-view mirrors get left behind?

By DPA | 11 January 2018

BERLIN: Car engineers and designers usually prefer looking ahead. But when Audi’s Head of Design, Marc Lichte, talks about the carmaker’s upcoming E-Tron, his perspective shifts slightly. After all, Audi’s first electric car should not only pave the way to the future, but should also change how we look backwards – literally.

“For the first time in a production car, we will build the E-Tron without rear-view mirrors and install cameras instead,” says Lichte about the battery-powered SUV, which is set to debut in the second half of 2018.

VW’s Head of Brand Design, Klaus Bischoff, points to the need for special permits and the low quality camera image – in addition to the higher costs associated with installing cameras – as the main hurdles that have slowed down the introduction of this new technology.

But there are good reasons to use cameras instead of mirrors, explains BMW’s top electronics engineer Elmar Frickenstein, who has himself unveiled prototypes featuring this technology on exhibition floors.

The Kia Sportage rear-view mirror adds a reverse camera to enhance its utility.
The Kia Sportage's rear-view mirror adds a reverse camera to enhance its utility.

On the one hand, of course, there is the question of image and impact on the customer, because cameras rather than mirrors would be considered modern and cool, says the engineer. “But, on the other hand, it is quite banally about air resistance and, as a result, fuel consumption.”

According to both experts and manufacturers themselves, a few grams of CO2 per kilometre can lead to significant differences over the long term, and can even boost an electric car's range.

However, as interesting as rear-view cameras might be, these technologies may well end up being merely temporary solutions that drivers should not get used to, says Laurens van den Acker, Head of Design at Renault.

According to van den Acker, the number of cameras in vehicles is almost certain to increase, but drivers’ interest in the pictures they depict will also decline over time as vehicle electronics become increasingly autonomous.

“And if at some point you rely completely on the autopilot and do without the steering wheel and the pedals, then the look backwards can be dispensed with entirely,” says van den Acker.