December 4, 2009 / 2:04 AM / 8 years ago

GM sees the driving future: it's a video game

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - General Motors Co, battling for survival for much of the past year, has cut loose designers to sketch out a vision of the ultimate youth car of the future -- a virtual one-wheeled wonder that would match wits with its driver.

The GM entry for this year's design challenge at the Los Angeles auto show imagines a "Car Hero" software application -- reminiscent of the popular "Guitar Hero" video games -- intended to teach young motorists to drive.

As the gamer advances beyond the beginner level, the vehicle's "morphable architecture" would turn it into a three-wheeled vehicle with greater speed and maneuverability.

At the final level, the car is transformed into "the ultimate driving challenge," a one-wheeled vehicle that comes with "exclusive shortcut and lane options." In order to advance, the driver has to show more skill than the car's "autonomous" system.

GM depicts the driver of the ultimate fantasy vehicle seated in the middle of a giant tire propelled by a rocket-like thruster. It carries a disclaimer saying the experience would be rated "T for Teen" with a warning of "thrills, excitement and loss of bladder control."

"It's very blue sky," Julie Rough, a spokeswoman for GM's design studio, said of the concept. "It's just kind of an interesting idea to get teens to feel more comfortable and grow at their own pace, really, in terms of driver's education."

The GM concept was one of six entries in the annual competition, which asked automakers to envision what a new generation of drivers, raised with cellphones, social networking and webcams, will demand in the year 2030.

Nissan Motor Co won for its concept for a sleek "vehicle-to-grid" car that would be integrated with electrified highways of the future.

The Los Angeles design contest has a history of prompting entries from automakers that are a mix of futuristic thinking and present-day image management.

In 2006, GM won the contest with a sketch of a Hummer SUV featuring an algae-filled body shell designed to shed oxygen that would also open up like the leaves of a flower to catch sunlight when parked.

Hummer is one of the brands that GM has decided to drop in its restructuring, funded by $50 billion in U.S. taxpayer support and facilitated by a July bankruptcy. A deal to sell Hummer to China's Sichuan Tenzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery is awaiting approval from China's government.

Reporting by Steve Gorman and Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Richard Chang

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