What might personal transportation look like in 2039? In a new video, General Motors takes a stab at answering that question as it ponders a not-so-distant future incorporating several trends shaping the auto industry, chiefly around electrifying vehicles and developing self-driving cars.
It’s also a clever look ahead to the 100-year anniversary of Futurama, GM’s groundbreaking exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. It envisioned, accurately in many cases, a future where the automobile reigned supreme and spawned a vast network of modern superhighways that gave shape to cities, connected the nation’s vast empty spaces and helped fuel a massive economic expansion.
“In 1939,” the text overlay reads, “GM showed a troubled world a vision of a brighter future. Now the world needs a new vision.”
The video — call it Futurama 2.0 — hews closely to GM’s “zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion” mantra, which it calls Vision Zero. We’re treated to a procession of futuristic vehicles, like the Cruise Origin autonomous pod with sliding glass doors, inside of which sits a family watching “The Lego Batman Movie.” There’s a shot of a woman making notes on paper, sitting in the driver’s seat of what could be that self-driving Chevrolet Bolt that features no steering wheel, to demonstrate cars monitoring our biometric information. A Cadillac — we can make out the shield logo on the hub cap — pulls up to a stop in front of a little girl crossing the street, thanks to its emergency braking system. And a Buick Enspire, a concept EV crossover from 2018, is shown recharging atop a conductive pad, sans electric cord. There’s also an appearance by the Chevy FNR, the wildly futuristic autonomous EV concept from 2015.
Futurama was a “carry-go-round” ride through GM’s seven-acre Highways and Horizons exhibit, which was billed as the “most lifelike and largest scale model ever constructed” at 35,738 square feet. It guided doe-eyed visitors on 15-minute tours from above of futuristic metropolises, modern roads and superhighways, massive dams and pastoral scenes of roads connecting people to farms and scenic natural areas. Though it generally forecast ahead only as far as 1960, many of its predictions proved to be prescient.
Unveiled at a time when the United States was in the grips of the Great Depression and still two years away from Pearl Harbor and its entry into the war, GM said Futurama was intended to demonstrate “the truth that the world, far from being finished, is hardly yet begun; that the job of building the world of tomorrow is one which will demand our best energies, our most fruitful imagination; and with it will come employment for untold millions.”
The world, of course, has a new set of challenges today that are no less dire. But it’s nice to see some optimism offered about a future that is so often associated with producing anxiety.