DETROIT -- I've got two kids approaching ripe ages for that Disney World trip that many parents deem a rite of passage. I sort of dread it though, what with the crowds and the expense and, well, all the Disney stuff.
But there is one attraction that I know my boys will be wild about, given how they clamber over all manner of demo vehicles that I occasionally pull into the driveway.
After a nine-month overhaul, the Epcot theme park's Test Track reopens Dec. 6 under a fresh sponsorship from Chevrolet.
Opened in 1999, the ride is essentially a flat roller coaster that simulates an automotive test track, hurtling riders along banks and tight turns at speeds exceeding 60 mph. That's cool enough to make it one of the most popular rides at Epcot, drawing millions of visitors a year.Using software "similar to that used by Chevrolet designers every day," visitors will start with a single line scrawled across a touch screen and manipulate the design from there. Once the vehicle is sketched, visitors can add custom wheels, paint, special fascias and flashy accessories.
Then visitors will board the ride and have their own virtual vehicles scored on how well they would perform over the track on key attributes such as capability and responsiveness. Afterward, patrons will stream through a showroom featuring as many as a dozen current Chevy production cars.
GM has sponsored the Test Track since its inception, but not under the Chevy banner. The track "car" was variously badged as a Pontiac, Saturn or some other GM make.
Disney and GM have added a whiz-bang new element: a design studio where visitors digitally craft their own Chevy sports car, truck or even a microcar (for green types worried about what kind of mpg their imaginary vehicle will get).
It all amounts to a great big product placement for Chevy. We don't know how much GM is paying for that or how much it invested in its creation. Neither company will say.
The Chevy presence "is not a hard sell," says Jeff Mylenek, a GM design manager who worked with Disney on the project. It's meant to convey that "a vehicle actually comes to life out of the mind of a creative person."
It's not a stretch to think that, for many young visitors, "car designer" might leap to the top of their lists of what they want to be when they grow up.
And if some of them end up slapping gold bow ties on the grilles of their future creations, that's OK by GM.