Each year as part of the Design Los Angeles Conference held at the LA Auto Show, creative types from major car companies get to stare into their crystal balls and let their imaginations run wild in designing the car of the future. In 2007 the theme was the car 50 years from today, last year the challenge was to envision how motor-racing will look in 2025 and this time around, the brief is to look at what young people will be driving in the year 2030.
Labeled "youthmobile 2030", the '09 Design Challenge asks how the automobile fits in with the growing interaction and self-expression offered by communication technology, and just what will 16-23 year old drivers raised on mobile phones and instant gratification want from their cars 20 years from now?
Here's our summary of the 2009 entries - and there's loads of pics in the gallery showcasing details of the various radical designs.
AudiAudi is presenting two design concepts based on the premise that the fully autonomous vehicles of the future, while providing safety and convenience, will also be a tad boring for the "driver". To combat this coming motoring malaise, designers have produced a pair of radical, hubless designs aimed at bringing back the "excitement of your first time behind the wheel. Both designs aspire to an intuitive control interface that "takes even the smallest body movements and gestures of the driver into consideration to provide an unsurpassed command of the drive"... we're just hoping that this doesn't translate to a head on collision when you scratch your nose. While both use the same open-wheel platform, the Audi eSpira does more to retain familiar Audi lines with its low-slung design, while the Audi eOra - billed as the sportier of the two - has a smaller footprint and more upright cabin configuration where the driver sits in a position more akin to riding a bicycle.
GM HeroThe GM design concept offering would certainly make learning to drive a breeze for youngsters in the year 2030. The OnStar Car Hero is both a vehicle and a game, pitting the skill of the gamer/driver against the vehicle's autonomous control system.
The idea is to plug in your destination via a smartphone based nav system and "play along" via the gaming like interface until your skill level reaches a level at which the car lets you take control, overriding the autonomous system. If you get too smart, the car can up the ante by morphing into a three, two and even single wheel vehicle to challenge your mastery.
The Hero system would also feature the ability to bring friends along for a virtual ride and a "Fantasy Drive".
Honda HelixHonda's offering is perhaps both the most thought provoking (and hardest to get your head around) of the designs. It's another morphing concept based on the notion that "genetic integration and advanced adaptive polymers will shatter the current paradigm of what is now considered 'personally' unique." This results in a concept that, through bio-receptors inside the vehicle, links the shape, color and even materials used to the users DNA, making the vehicle an extension of the user that grows with you and reflects your personality and traits as well as the environment.
The Helix has three basic configurations - "A" for tighter urban roads, "B" for areas where high speed travel is required, and the skinny, split level "Z" shape is for highly congested cities where a tiny footprint is essential. Thought provoking? Yes. Achievable by 2030? We'll just have to wait and see.
Mazda SougaAlso focusing on responding to individual desires, the Mazda concept revolves around the creation of a "virtual reality website that acts as a design playground for young people, allowing them to experiment, build, and share their automotive dreams in a virtual world at no cost".
The system would use 3D design and manufacturing software to allow buyers to create the car of their choice and then purchase it at a low cost with an ongoing monthly contract (like mobile phone deals) covering electricity usage costs.
The Mazda vision also sees communication and info systems being integrated into clothing by 2030, meaning that there's no need to bother with these as part of the vehicle itself. This one gets our vote for the slickest sketches.
Nissan V2GReminding us a little of a Star Wars Pod-racer for the road, Nissan's V2G design would take advantage of an electrified highway system to deliver a low-cost transport solution - again based on the mobile phone plan model. The V2G could also be taken "off-grid" and customized with plug-and-play upgrade kits.
Toyota LINKThe Toyota LINK is designed as a low-cost, social networking transport solution for the students of tomorrow. Customizable LINK vehicles would be picked up at central hubs and when occupied, tie the driver into a central information system that could be used by drivers to "share the commute, trade music, or compare class schedules".
Designwise the LINK looks like a large, road-going rollerblade which could be customized using "LINK SKINZ" - personalized designs that can be downloaded and implemented immediately. The designers also foresee technology that replaces conventional wheels with electro conductive "SPHERES" that can convert friction into energy to recharge the batteries.
What do you think of these blue-sky concepts? Are they too out-there to ever grace the tarmac of the future? Let us know in the comments section below.