Car of future may sit on glorified skateboard
By Ed Gartsen
General Motors Corp. believes this almost featureless structure may help reinvent the automobile.
Shown for the first time at the North American International Auto Show yesterday, GM's Autonomy combines fuel cell propulsion with what's known as "drive-by-wire" technology. The skateboard-like structure is a docking station/chassis, to which a body would be attached to form a vehicle.
"This concept provides the vision of the coming hydrogen economy, a world of truly sustainable mobility," said Rick Wagoner, GM president and CEO.
The Autonomy is powered by a hydrogen-fueled fuel cell system that is shoehorned into the 6-inch thick chassis. It powers four small motors, one mounted on each wheel, supplanting the traditional front- or rear-mounted engine and transmission.
"This could be the biggest thing in the last 50 years," said David Cole, director of the Center for Automotive Research. "It will redefine the industry in terms of manufacturing and suppliers."
Using drive-by-wire, the steering, braking and other systems are operated electronically, instead of mechanically, eliminating the need for heavy, bulky components. It also eliminates the need for engine oil, transmission fluid or brake fluid.
All the wiring is stuffed into the chassis. A hand-operated steering guide called the X-drive replaces the steering column.
Accelerator and brake pedals and instrument panels also would be eliminated.
In theory, the chassis could last 15 to 20 years, allowing the owner to simply replace the body as styles, needs and tastes change, says Larry Burns, GM's vice president for research, development and planning.
GM has applied for 24 different patents covering business models, technologies and manufacturing processes related to the Autonomy.
GM has set 2020 as a target date for producing a vehicle based on Autonomy's technologies.
Among other highlights yesterday:
After a decade-long absence from the North American market, Maserati marked its return by showing two cars the Coupe and the Spyder that soon will be available in the United States.
The new two-door, four-seat Coupe features a 4.2-liter, V8 engine, as well as a new gear system and suspension. The two-door, two-seat Spyder was launched in September in Frankfurt, Germany.
Maserati, which was bought by Ferrari in 1997, plans to sell about 1,400 at select dealers in the United States starting this quarter. The cars are expected to be sold in the United States for $77,000 to $87,000.
Volkswagen unveiled its Magellan concept, a model of a crossover vehicle that is part car, part truck and part sport utility vehicle. Jens Neumann, a Volkswagen board member, also said that the company might decide this year to bring back its Microbus, which has long been out of production in the United States.
Toyota Motor Corp. said it plans to offer more affordable cars, introducing its 2003 Corolla, priced at $13,370, and Matrix, priced at $14,000.
Toyota also unveiled a concept coupe crossover, the ccX, a four-seater with two sunroofs that fold toward the center of the car roof like accordions, creating an opening above the front seat and back cargo area.