Thursday, December 6, is a great day for all kids who spent their time in algebra class sketching designs for cars: Walt Disney World’s redesigned and updated Test Track, now named the Test Track Presented by Chevrolet, opens at Epcot Center.
Thanks to Walt Disney Imagineers and Chevrolet’s active sponsorship, you can design a car digitally and then virtually drive it to test your design. It’s a whole generation newer and more exciting than the previous test track at Disney World, which opened in 1998 and closed for the renovation last spring.
Preview at the Virtual Reality Studio
My twelve-year-old, Sam, couldn’t wait to see the preview of the new track. He’s that guy in the back of the classroom, drawing the Sam Brown version of the next-generation Maserati on his notebook paper, and he’s the one Chevrolet and Disney are aiming for.
So I brought Sam along to a presentation in General Motors’ virtual reality studio in Warren, Michigan, where we got to see how the new track will look. As a bonus, he got to meet actual Disney Imagineers.
Almost immediately, Sam’s demographic got acknowledgment: “We don’t typically design through the eyes of a twelve-year-old,” said General Motors’ Jeff Mylenek, design manager for global exhibit and merchandise design. This test track is the exception, giving a “more youthful perspective,” said Mylenek.
The results of the eighteen-month redesign of the test track are nothing short of eye popping. It’s going to be another tour de force ride by Disney, but it’s more than that because visitors to the track will get to develop their own creative ideas.
Most important: Chevrolet wants people to think about the human beings behind the design of a new car. The GM division is obviously also looking to build some brand loyalty, and this is a fun way to go about it.
Here’s how it works:
• You go into a pre-ride area labeled as the Chevrolet Design Center area, and you design a car, truck, or crossover vehicle using touchscreens at design kiosks.
• You get to decide what’s more important to you: fuel efficiency and greenness? Pure, raw power? Handling and responsiveness? Looks? You can even make a deliberately ugly or low-performing car, if you want.
• The design experience goes all the way from choice of length, width, and engine size to grille, wheel size and type, and accessories. Chevrolet says there are trillions of possible design combinations. The last detail is the addition of the Chevrolet bow tie logo to the front.
• Your design is encoded onto a card that you take with you into a six-passenger SimCar for the virtual ride in your design.
• The open SimCar takes you on a ride through what Disney Imagineer Melissa Jeselnick called a “glowy virtual world” on track surfaces that, in Chevrolet’s words, “simulate the actual vehicle validation process that Chevrolet engineers use.”
• On the ride, you go through capability tests with “virtual weather” including snow, rain, and virtual lightning.
• Then there is an efficiency zone, testing aerodynamics and environmental impact. I’m guessing Sam’s car would do great on the former and terrible on the latter!
• Next comes a capability zone, with increasing inclines and hairpin turns.
• The final test is a high-speed course with banked turns at speeds up to 65 mph.
• You exit into a scoring room that calls up test results for your design and compare your design with top scores by others and the SimCar.
• After you get off the ride, you can race your design against other people’s on a digital driving table, which simulates changes in terrain and puts your vehicle through extreme conditions.
• If you want to, you can produce a TV commercial for your design, complete with narration and music, and e-mail it to yourself (or to your friends at home), and pose for photos in front of the design you made.
• Don’t forget the showroom (Chevrolet didn’t)! You can wander through production Chevrolets and ask questions about them, and you can have themed photos taken with backgrounds from urban environments to the rings of distant planets.
What twelve-year-old, or inner twelve-year-old, could fail to be intrigued? The attraction promises to draw crowds at Epcot.