A Car Is Born: L.A. Auto Show on the Search for Next Great Movie Wheels

Batmobile on the Red Carpet

She's rumored to be wearing Michelin tonight.

From the Batmobile to Doc Brown’s DeLorean, cars have sometimes played crucial roles alongside their human costars in American cinema. There was Dustin Hoffman’s Alfa Romeo in The Graduate, Steve McQueen’s 1968 Mustang GT in Bullitt, and Dean Jones’ Herbie the Love Bug in… well, The Love Bug. Perhaps hoping to reverse-engineer a new Hollywood hit movie, organizers of this year’s LA Auto Show Design Challenge are throwing down the gauntlet for designers to come up with the next awe-inspiring movie vehicle.

While they may have a hard time designing a vehicle for a story that doesn’t exist yet, automakers are likely to focus on futuristic models that could be dropped easily into sci-fi scenarios. The copyright challenges of designing from existing works in other media, such as novels or video games, may hamper them somewhat – but creative minds may find a workaround that allows their designs to pull double duty: as entries in the competition and as auditions for future films derivative of the existing work.

“There is no more perfect theme for this year’s competition held in Los Angeles, home to Hollywood and the film capital of the world,” said Chuck Pelly, director of Design Los Angeles and partner in The Design Academy, Inc. “We have some amazing talents participating and can expect blockbuster design concepts that fuse design and technology in innovative ways.”

Now in its ninth running, the Design Challenge features a different theme each year, as major automotive design studios from the U.S., Germany and Japan compete against one another to show off their talents and vie for the top prize. Judging of this year’s competition is to be based on: how the vehicle reflects its brand attributes relative to the chosen plot; how the vehicle relates to the targeted audience or brand; level of imagination; character development of the vehicle; and uniqueness of the combination of story, car and character.

Entries will be judged by Tom Matano, director of Industrial Design at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University; Imre Molnar, dean of Detroit’s College for Creative Studies; and Stewart Reed, chairman, Transportation Design at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design. There also will be a special guest judge with an expertise in movie cars from Pixar Animation Studios, which knows a thing or two about Cars.

The winning design will be announced Nov. 17 during the Design Los Angeles conference at the LA Auto Show. Learn more about the competition and see photos at LAAutoShow.com/DesignChallenge.html.

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