“Even when I was a kid my first bike had to look different,” explains Rinspeed inventor Frank Rinderknecht, as he stands by the iChange — an electric car that adapts its interior and energy-use to the amount of passengers on board. iChange is the latest in a series of wild concept cars the Swiss company has shown at the Geneva Motor Show over the last few decades.
Rinderknecht found huge success when he started importing sunroofs into Switzerland in the late 1970s. With the profits, he indulged his passion for customization, starting out by giving the first VW Golf square headlamps then gull-wing doors.
Since then he has created a fleet of inspired prototypes including the Senso, which measures the driver’s biometric data in order to change the colours, sound and scent of the car to create optimum driving conditions.
There’s the Splash, the car-come-hovercraft in which he crossed the English Channel in record time and the sQuba, a diving car.
He is even an eco-pioneer — his 2001 Avantige was the first sports car to run on kitchen and garden waste.
His ideas come from life, nature, architecture. “I like to be inspired by the spirit of the time. Above all the cars need to touch people.”
Although these cars can cost up to $1 million to develop, he has never sold a production version. Instead, Rinspeed — one of the world’s leading Porsche tuners — uses the concepts as a shop window for his ideas, resulting in consultancy work with car makers and suppliers.
His ideas sometimes filter down to mainstream cars — including the steering wheel-mounted audio controls he conceived in 1982, and the Senso’s mood-lighting features. “I want to set trends,” says Rinderknecht.
These forward-thinking concepts often feel like James Bond cars. “I would produce a flying car for Bond,” says Rinderknecht. “Although the time has to be right. In this time of crisis people have other priorities. But it’s on the list.”