LAS VEGAS – Forward-thinking companies seem to be coming to the same conclusion about what type of vehicle architecture is best suited for the age of self-driving cars achieving Level 5 autonomy, without the need for a steering wheel.

Automotive traditionalists with a deep appreciation for dramatic designs, taut sheet metal and steeply raked windshields to convey speed and motion may roll their eyes when they see images of Rinspeed’s Snap or Toyota’s e-Palette – two remarkably similar concepts unveiled on the same day here at CES.

The principle is a rolling chassis, increasingly referred to as a “skateboard” because it incorporates the wheels, drivetrain components (most likely electric) and much of the sensors and intelligence necessary for navigating specified routes without anyone at the tiller.

The skateboard would then act much like the undercarriage of a freight train, with the ability to load various cargo containers, generally the same dimension but every one of them hauling something different. General Motors advanced a similar concept with its AUTOnomy and Hy-wire fuel-cell platform 15 years ago.

The vision is shared by Frank Rinderknecht, CEO, founder and chairman of Rinspeed, a Swiss company that has delivered dozens of disruptive concepts (as well as viable products, such as controls mounted on steering wheels) for most of its 40 years.

Rinspeed’s latest idea, the Snap, looks much like a cargo container, with some softer edges, lots of glass and a more welcoming design. Rinderknecht refers to these swappable blocks as “pods,” and he says they can be whatever consumers want them to be.

Years down the road, if lots of vehicles like this are tooling around America, Rinderknecht wouldn’t be a bit surprised if people rarely saw two pods that were identical.

“Your imagination is really the limit,” he tells journalists seeing the Rinspeed this week here at CES 2018. “Let’s say you’re feeling romantic tonight, so you take your wife out in a cuddle pod. Or you have a business meeting, or you want a sauna or you want to go camping. You just order the pod you want.”

Rinderknecht envisions an “ecosystem” – a potentially massive market for companies that customize pods in the same way that thousands of aftermarket specialists across America (and particularly in Southern California) paint, modify and makeover existing vehicles exactly as customers want them, or start from scratch and deliver a one-of-a-kind car when cost is no object.

The big difference is that pods being placed atop a Snap skateboard chassis would be dedicated to countless things that can be done whether the car is moving or not, whereas traditional vehicle customization has been about creating an unparalleled driving and motoring experience.

Indeed, Rinderknecht was adamant that his design team craft a pod that looks nothing like a conventional vehicle. “I wanted it to look like a Bedouin tent in a way, so people associate it, when they see it, not as a vehicle,” he says.

He says Rinspeed has partnered with SAP, an enterprise software provider, to help create an “ecosystem” by which a vast variety of pods could be available to consumers and a separate network for maintaining the mechanical elements of the skateboard.