Commuters using London's public-transit system probably never dream of being picked up in an Aston Martin, but it may not be long before that happens. The storied automaker has teamed with architecture superfirm Foster + Partners to give the famed double-decker Routemaster bus a makeover. "Both Foster + Partners and Aston Martin are recognized brands that are designing at the high end, so it seemed like a good match," Alistair Lenczner, a partner at Foster + Partners, says of the pairing, forged for a competition launched by London mayor Boris Johnson last year.
The bus is powered by electric motors integrated into the wheel hubs. That allows a lower floor, which improves accessibility — wheelchairs can go through a wide middle door via a retractable ramp — and boosts the vehicle's turning radius by 10%, a boon for behemoths navigating London's narrow streets. The engine is designed to be easily swapped out as technology improves, say, from today's diesel-powered model to some fuel-cell novelty tomorrow. A glass roof on the top deck pulls in natural light while charging the batteries further with integrated photovoltaics. And while few passengers would expect the fit and finish of a public bus to equal that of, for instance, a DB9, the team chose unexpectedly plush materials — reconstituted-leather upholstery and recycled-wood floors — to create a bus with a cozy, inviting interior "like a lounge or living room on wheels," says Lenczner.
In the contest, the Aston Martin/Foster + Partners design tied for top honors with a more mundane model from bus-and-truck designer Capoco Design. Transport for London, the city's mass-transit authority, says bus manufacturers are using the designs as bases for production proposals. The first prototype could be vanquishing London by 2011.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.