2002 Vol. 11 No. 1
Futuristic Automobile Design
Rick Wagoner, president and CEO of General
Motors Corporation un-veiled a futuristic automobile
design concept called AUTONOMY at the North American
International Auto Show on January 7, 2002. He stated
the "concept provides the vision of the coming hydrogen
economy, a world of truly sustainable mobility." Shown
publicly for the first time, Autonomy combines hydrogen
fuel cell propulsion with what's known as "drive-by-wire"
The revolutionary design concept consists
of a chassis/docking station that looks like a giant
skateboard (6 inches thick, 14 feet long, and just over
6 feet wide) sitting on oversized tires, with a passenger
shell that docks to the chassis. The passenger shell
comes in interchangeable body styles (ranging from compact
and family cars to SUV's), all designed to mate with
The Autonomy is powered by the hydrogen-fueled
fuel cell system that is shoe horned 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.
General Motors Corp. believes the thin,
flat Autonomy structure just may be the foundation for
the reinvention of the automobile. "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
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. It creates, on a much larger
scale, the same type of docking station one might use
to connect a laptop computer to a company's system.
With the Autonomy, the vehicles body plays the role
of the laptop. It is simply attached to the chassis,
connecting with its circuits. A hand-operated steering
guide called the X-drive replaces the steering column.
Accelerator and brake pedals and instrument panels would
also be eliminated, with their functions incorporated
into the X-drive, which could be mounted on a swivel
arm connected to the floor in the center of the vehicle.
In theory, the chassis could last 15
to 20 years, allowing the owner to replace the body
as styles and needs change, says Larry Burns, GM vice
president for research, development and planning. Using
the year 2020 as a target date for producing a vehicle
based on Autonomy's technologies, Burns said considerable
obstacles stand in the way, namely cost, safe on board
hydrogen storage, a hydrogen refueling infrastructure
and safety testing.
Burns said safety is improved with the
elimination of the steering column and instrument panel
- two surfaces occupants often hit in crashes. The skateboards
low center of gravity also would contribute to better
handling and roll over resistance, Burns said.
GM has applied for 24 patents covering
business models, technologies and manufacturing processes
related to the Autonomy.