Lexus teams up with RCA students to create bold visions of future mobility

A hydrogen-powered VTOL personal flying machine is among forward-thinking concepts as Lexus and London’s Royal College of Art explore the future of luxury mobility

VTOL personal flying machine concept
Lexus ALTO, a VTOL personal flying machine concept created for ‘Lexus 2040: the Soul of Future Premium’
(Image credit: Richard Newman)

Design schools form an essential part of the car makers’ research pipeline, offering up an inexhaustible source of innovative thinking from bright young minds.

It’s not uncommon for companies to set design briefs that align with their future manufacturing interests and then sponsor the brightest and the best with the lure of a first job after graduation.

VTOL aircraft future mobility concept

Lexus ALTO

(Image credit: Richard Newman)

Lexus’s new design programme, ‘Lexus 2040: the Soul of Future Premium’, is a collaboration between the Japanese luxury brand and London’s Royal College of Art (RCA).

The programme tasked postgraduate students at the RCA’s Intelligent Mobility Design Centre with exploring ways of making a premium statement about mobility in an uncertain and very different world, 18 years into the future.

‘Lexus 2040: the Soul of Future Premium’: winners and finalists

VTOL aircraft future mobility concept design

(Image credit: Richard Newman)

Six students were shortlisted from the programme, all of whom refined their designs and presented them to a judging panel including Lexus design leaders Ian Cartabiano and Lance Scott, along with course leader Professor Dale Harrow and Dr Chris Thorpe of the RCA, and writer Nargess Banks.

RCA postgraduate student Richard Newman presenting his Lexus ALTO future mobility concept

Richard Newman presenting his Lexus ALTO concept

(Image credit: Richard Newman)

The winner was Richard Newman with his ‘ALTO’ concept, a personal flying machine that the judges reckoned was more 2050 than 2040, but which nevertheless encapsulated the company’s forward-looking spirit.

There were commendations for two runners-up, Ben Miller’s ‘Crucible’ and Zhenyu Kong’s ‘Lexus #Units’.

Lexus #Units, a future mobility concept

Lexus #Units

(Image credit: Zhenyu Kong)

Newman describes ALTO as a hydrogen-powered VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) craft, shaped like a pendant (and partly inspired by hot air balloons and plant terrariums). Envisioning a future rich with technology, the young designer predicts that premium will be redefined as a ‘celebration of the everyday’. The ALTO is designed to dock with buildings, and swivel from vertical to horizontal for long flights.

Louis Poulsen’s ‘Artichoke’ lamp was another visual inspiration, particularly for the ALTO’s flexible, customisable surfaces. According to Newman, ALTO is ‘jewellery in the sky – like a cloud’s earring. I wanted to create something that is quite challenging, that would raise a few eyebrows, but which would also make people smile’.

Lexus #Units, a future mobility concept

Lexus #Units

(Image credit: Zhenyu Kong)

Zhenyu Kong’s Lexus #Units project was inspired by the abstract forms of concrete coastal barriers. An adaptable one-person machine with a flexible footprint, the shape can be stacked together with other #Units to create a larger vehicle. Three multi-directional ball wheels give it exceptional flexibility, and the interior can – inevitably – be customised with NFTs.

Think of Kong’s idea as a mobile social media post, intended to lure a young premium audience.

Lexus Crucible Concept, a future mobility concept

Lexus Crucible Concept

(Image credit: Ben Miller)

Ben Miller’s Crucible is slightly more conventional, albeit only in that it has four wheels. Miller believes that future luxury mobility design is about ownership of spaces, but not necessarily the mechanisms required to make them move.

The Crucible is therefore a luxury cabin atop a hydrogen-fuelled platform, an ‘escape vehicle’ that can be treated as a piece of high-end furniture when it’s not docked with its spindly, high-performance base.

Lexus NEKO, a future mobility concept

Lexus NEKO

(Image credit: Jan Niehues)

All six finalists explored how key Lexus design features might evolve over the decades to come, from the quality of the surfaces to the shapes of the company’s logo. The judges were especially impressed by the quality and sophistication of the presentations and visuals.

Of the three other students, Jan Niehus’s NEKO proposal went full sci-fi with its insectoid exoskeleton formed from as-yet non-existent microbots. This autonomous EV is part car, part robot.

Lexus UrbanSwarm future mobility

Lexus UrbanSwarm

(Image credit: Maxime Gauthier)

Maxime Gauthier’s Lexus UrbanSwarm was another exploration of the personal pod, this time using a tessellating design that can easily link up with other devices to form much larger mass transit vehicles.

Gauthier wanted to explore inclusive transportation, so the UrbanSwarm was developed with wheelchair users in mind from the outset.

2040 Lexus Vision In-season

2040 Lexus Vision In-season

(Image credit: Bangning An)

Finally, there was 2040 Lexus Vision In-season by Bangning An, intended as a physical expression of the Japanese idiom, ichi-go, ichi-e, the art of savouring a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Designed to encapsulate the changing seasons – often lost to urban dwellers – the In-season changes colour and interior atmosphere over the course of the year, bringing a rare sense of connection to each journey.


RCA Intelligent Mobility MA,


Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.