Disney puts Chevrolet Test Track visitors in digital driver's seat
Nov 09, 2012 (Detroit Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
General Motors is handing the virtual keys to its design studios over to Walt Disney World Resort visitors in Chevrolet's renovated and redesigned Test Track ride and experience at the Epcot theme park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
GM and Disney offered a first glimpse today at the new Test Track, which the entertainment giant described as one of the most popular attractions at Epcot.
The new experience allows visitors to use virtual digital tools to design their own customized concept vehicles, test them on a real-life indoor track, examine performance data and create commercials to promote their products.
GM designers and Disney's Imagineers spent 18 months redesigning Test Track, which will celebrate a grand reopening Dec. 6 after closing in April for renovations.
The project reflects the latest evolution in GM's bid to attract young people who aren't excited about cars and to revolutionize its image among consumers who consider Chevy staid.
"I think that's part of the whole storytelling experience is capturing the imagination and excitement of youth," said Jeffrey Mylenek, GM's design manager for global industrial design, who led the project. "It's not to do a hard sell, but it's just to get their interests and imagination sparked."
The new Test Track also comes as the auto industry is fighting to recruit young creative talent against major industrial competitors like Apple.
"We wanted to engage our guests to experience and understand that vehicles are designed by people," Mylenek said. "They think about a factory and how a car is made, but they don't' understand how that vehicle comes to life out of the mind of a creative person"
GM, which has sponsored an exhibit at Epcot since the amusement park opened in 1982, opted to redesign the Test Track experience for the first time since it replaced the World of Motion exhibit in 1999.
Some visitors said the old Test Track -- which once featured Pontiac and Saturn products, brands that GM eliminated during its 2009 bankruptcy -- had gotten stale.
The redesigned ride is hyper digital, featuring stylized graphics and advanced design features that GM will be able to adjust over time with software upgrades.
The automaker said the software integrated into the freshened Test Track experience is similar to the software that it uses in its 10 design studios throughout the world.
Disney declined to offer a projection of how many people are expected to visit the ride, but Mylenek said it was already "in the millions" before it was redesigned.
Disney spokeswoman Melissa Jeselnick said the redesigned attraction's focus on allowing visitors to design and test their own virtual vehicle makes it "the most interactive story we've ever told."
"From the color scheme to the architecture, this is the Chevrolet story," she said.
GM and Disney declined to reveal financial details about their partnership. The automaker is said to have considered severing its deal with Disney during its bankruptcy reorganization, but decided to keep it.
During the Test Track experience, amateur designers:
-- Start by choosing a line that will define the curves of their vehicle.
-- Ensure their vehicle is durable and capable of handling extreme conditions.
-- Consider a balance between fuel economy, environmental sustainability and performance.
-- Incorporate components that will boost the car's responsiveness and ability to maneuver through tight turns.
-- Choose from a wide variety of colors.
Jeselnick said there are "literally trillions of possible outcomes -- and yes, we did the math."
But does the system allow you to design a lemon
"It can be aesthetically displeasing, yes," Mylenek said.
Chevy spokesman Michael Albano joked: "If it's a lemon, it won't have the Chevy bowtie in front of it."
Contact: Nathan Bomey at 313-223-4743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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