Hollywood is not only famous for movies, but for showing us motor cars as they should be. James Bond's gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5, the magical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bullitt's indestructible Ford Mustang, Marty McFly's time-traveling Delorean and all of the incarnations of the Batmobile - these are the cars we walk into the dealer's showroom hoping to see, but never do. They exist nowhere except on the screen or as movie props.
So what will become "Hollywood's hottest new movie car"? That's the question posed to automotive designers in the 2011 L.A. Auto Show Design Challenge. Drawing on the latest technology, decades of design experience and a healthy dose of imagination, here's how designers from major car companies have met this cinematic challenge.
The annual Design Challenge is intended to encourage car makers to come up with creative, futuristic designs that push boundaries. In other words, Design Los Angeles tells the contestants to throw away the rule book, forget practicality and even basic physics and go nuts. The only boundaries are that the designs must reflect the car maker's brand attributes as they relate to the movie plot and the target audience, show "character development" of the vehicle and a unique combination of story, car and character and, of course, an insane level of imagination.
We've already taken a look at Honda's "wild west" inspired offering, now let's check out the rest of the field.
Mercedes Silver Arrow
Using a hypothetical movie named Silver Lightning as a starting point, designers from Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America have penned the Mercedes Silver Arrow.
This thing is pure polished aggression that looks like it's going flat out even when its sitting still. The glowing trim even changes color to unnerve onlookers even more. The movie it's in stars a pair of, wait for it, sentient crash dummies. Not surprisingly, the story is about how the AI-equipped dummies steal the Mercedes Silver Arrow to keep it out of the hands of the villain and go on an insane chase through a futuristic city.
Looking like one huge airfoil, the Mercedes Silver Arrow is a hard-top convertible with the roof consisting of magnetic tiles that snap into place when needed like an animated jigsaw puzzle out of a stop motion animated film. But the most striking feature about this car is that at first glance it looks impossible to steer - the wheels are solid pieces of metal welded right to the car body, which is more or less the case.
The secret to this magician's trick is that behind the silver wheel fairings are what are called "omni-directional wheels" running off of magnetic pulse drive. The magnetic pulse drive is still science fiction, but the omni-directional wheels, also called Mecanum or Ilon wheels, are quite real, though they aren't used today for supercars driven by robot crash dummies. Instead, they're used in experimental robots and wheel chairs and are in service with the US Navy on forklift trucks aboard aircraft carriers where quarters can be a bit cramped. Invented in 1973 by Swedish engineer Bengt Ilon, the omni-directional wheel is made up of a circle of rollers set at a 45 degree angle to the rim. By varying the speed and direction that each roller spins, the wheel allows a vehicle to travel in any direction without the wheels having to actually turn. When installed in a high-power concept future car like the Mercedes Silver Arrow, this means that it can not only look intimidating, but also downright alarming as it drifts and crabs in any direction like a cartoon car. Hopefully, the traction control is advanced as the wheel design.
Smart 341 Parkour
The approach taken by Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design Germany was less supercar and more urban runabout. For their film treatment, Annie get the Grannies!, the team equipped go-getting reporter of the future Annie Angle with what can only be called a Smart car redesigned to the specifications of Herbie the Love Bug. With its compact design and pop-up bubble windscreen providing 360 degree vision, the Smart 341 Parkour wouldn't look to out of place in a line up of projected urban cars-provided you can ignore the huge wheels with their wings made up of articulated hexagons.
It's these wheels that set the Smart 341 Parkour apart. They not only turn like conventional wheels, they also fold out to lay flat on their sides and retract. Because of this, the Smart 341 Parkour solves the ever-present problem of finding a parking space in the city. If only a tiny space a few feet square is available, the Smart 341 Parkour can stand on its head like an elephant with the driver staring face-down at the road. Do not leave your laptop on the seat in this car unless you don't mind hearing an expensive thud.
The other thing about the wheels is that they look very bulky and complicated. That's because they aren't just wheels. They also contain "impulse pads" and vacuum cups. The former can lift and propel the Smart 341 Parkour the same as Iron Man's "repulsors" work and with as little explanation. The latter allow the vehicle to stick to the surfaces. These wheels provide the Smart 341 Parkour with three modes: Drive, which is conventional road travel, Fly, which is what it sounds like, and Climb, which means that the car can run up the sides of buildings, stick to the wall and perch like a bird's nest-assuming that the wall is strong enough to hold the weight of the vehicle without tearing loose. Do not use this on glass-fronted skyscrapers.
Hyundai Stratus Sprinter, DB Atlant (Airship)
What does the word "supercar" bring to mind? Vampires, of course, followed by airships and "light combat capabilities". At least, that's what Hyundai Design North America designers thought when they conceived the Hyundai Stratus Sprinter Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) and its companion vehicle the DB Atlant airship for their epic Divided.
The story line here follows the adventures of the Countess of Siberia - aristocrat, Cold War crusader and vampire. The airship DB Valant is her home base and the Hyundai Stratus Sprinter, in the words of Hyundai's screen treatment: "can travel any road due to its high ground clearance and has light combat capabilities." While the Airship stays afloat and hidden high in the sky to avoid detection, "both vehicles have a magical stealth force that renders them invisible during daylight, only to reappear after dark."
This is (thankfully) the only entry in the design competition to employ magic as a design feature. Other than that, the Hyundai Stratus Sprint is a pretty standard concept car with the only oddity being the wheel-locking mechanism it uses to dock with the airship. That and Hyundai passing the credit for designing and building the car to a family of Siberian vampires come automotive engineers.
The Cinderella story gets and automotive update in Cinderella and the Maybach Berline. Mercedes-Benz Interior Design Studio Germany's take is what you'd expect from Cinderella, except in this one the fairy godmother is "Cindy's" automotive designer father who lets her take the new Maybach prototype out on the town. Based on the classic Berline or Berlin carriage of the 19th century, it certainly looks like something drawn by a horse, but this modern interpretation is designed more for the sort of people who pick up luxury car brochures and immediately skip past the performance specs to the interior photographs.
Electrically powered and equipped with a satellite link to a Virtual Chauffeur Center, the Maybach Berline can drive itself or with the assistance of a human driver in a distant location, making this the most discrete of limousines. The interior is lined with soft, pink leather with accents made of sustainable wood and a "royal lounge" facing two passengers seats opposite. Suspended between them is a glass screen with 3D projection to display the Virtual Chauffeur or whatever entertainment is desired. On either side are large gull wing "privacy glass" doors with fold-down steps.
There's even extra cushions and a drawer containing a cashmere blanket as standard equipment if the journey becomes too arduous.
The suspense of this film isn't whether the handsome stranger will find Cindy again, but whether she'll bother to abandon all that luxury for dancing at a crummy ball.
Finally we have Subaru Design Tokyo Studio's offering, the Subaru HORIZON. This time, we have a car for a future age when the Earth has stopped rotating (for reasons not closely examined). The world has split into two civilizations literally as different as night and day and the peaceful, advanced people of the night side are in a race to save the world in a plan that involves the sort of crystals that one only finds in science fiction movies and a really hot car, the Subaru HORIZON.
This road warrior of tomorrow carries three passengers-four if you count their magical cat. It features head-up helmet displays, can withstand strong electromagnetic fields, chemical imbalances, scorching heat, and raging storms and can fire frightening Boadicea-type blades out of its hubcaps. It also seems to be not just turbo powered, but jet propelled. But it's main selling point is that it looks like a Bugatti Veyron with anger management issues. One almost suspects that it's getting ready to punch the Mercedes Silver Arrow in the grill.
The winners of the 2011 L.A. Auto Show Design Challenge 2011 will be announced at the Los Angeles Convention Center on November 17, 2011. When, or if, any of the above films will ever be produced is up to Hollywood.