The interior floor of GM's car of the future would be flat, without foot pedals or steering column.
DETROIT -- General Motors plans a revolutionary new vehicle -- one that would use fuel cells, allow drivers to sit wherever they want and permit owners to change body styles several times a week.
It would be based on platforms called skateboards which are just six inches thick and contain all the propulsion and control systems.
The interior floor would be flat, without foot pedals or steering column. The vehicles would run on hydrogen fuel cells, not gasoline.
"The 20th century was the century of the internal combustion engine," said Larry Burns, GM vice president of research and development and planning. "The 21st century will be the century of the fuel cell."
Introduced at show: This week at the North American International Auto Show here, GM introduced a concept vehicle called AUTOmony that uses the skateboard platform.
"AUTOnomy is more than just a new concept car," said Rick Wagoner, GM president and chief executive. "It's potentially the start of a revolution in how automobiles are designed, built and used."
GM said an almost endless variety of affordable vehicles could be built from a small number of skateboard platforms, perhaps two or three. GM now uses between 10 and 12 platforms for its vehicles.
Customized bodies would be easy to switch so customers could lease multiple body styles and swap them throughout the week.
The platform contains a docking port in the center of the chassis which allows a quick way to connect all body systems, including controls, power and heating.
At the auto show, GM showed a two-seat sports car built off the platform but said any body style could have been chosen.
"Next, we might do a mobility body that allows a wheelchair user to roll right into the driving position, or a 10-seat transit bus. We've even talked about a seating position that puts the driver right up front, like a helicopter pilot," said Wayne Cherry, GM vice president of design."
The vehicle body is free from traditional design requirements because of the skateboard platform.
"There's no engine to see over," Cherry said. "People could literally sit wherever they are comfortable. Drivers wouldn't have to sit in the traditional left-hand location. They could move to the center of the vehicle or they could move much closer to the front bumper or further back."
Steering guide: Drivers would use a steering guide, called X-Drive, that could easily be set for different positions in the vehicle.
GM said the platform would be designed to last for longer than a conventional vehicle.
GM's commitment to fuel cells goes along with an announcement this week that the Bush administration will help fund research for fuel-cell vehicles instead of a program from the Clinton administration that backed electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles that run a combination of gasoline and electric.
Fuel cells produce electricity from the chemical reaction that happens when hydrogen is combined with oxygen. The only waste product is water.