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How will customers form an emotional bond with cars that drive themselves, and where will designers

hide the huge number of new sensors and electronics autonomous vehicles will use? Those are a couple of the questions a panel of design experts is likely to address at the Detroit Athletic Club Thursday. We could end up with cars that have really thick roofs, because of all the sensors, and the need to place them high up so the car has a 360-degree field of view, said Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics in Birmingham and one of the panelists who will address journalists at an Automotive Press Association luncheon. A myriad other features we take for granted today may change as vehicles move on their own. How do you instill brand character into a vehicle that drives itself? asked Jason Stein, editor and publisher of Automotive News and the panels moderator. Thats a huge challenge for an industry that defines its products as driver-oriented and the ultimate driving machine. Automakers will need new ideas and compelling designs to prevent consumers from seeing cars and trucks as no different from their washers and dryers. How do you create an emotional link between a driver and an autonomous vehicle, Stein said. Designers around the world are competing in Driven/Un-driven: the Duality of Tomorrows Automobile, the 10th annual design competition sponsored by tire maker Michelin. The top three designs, and sketches of all the finalists, will be on display at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit next January. The relatively few experimental autonomous vehicles now on the road bristle with sensors, cameras and antennae like land-based submarines or bionic hedgehogs, but the challenge of commercializing the technology goes far beyond aesthetics. Once you have lots of autonomous vehicles on the road, you can reconsider what safety systems they need, Hall said.

Among the examples he cited: Bumpers that resist 5-m.p.h. impacts become superfluous in a world without fender benders. Headlights are unnecessary if the driver doesnt need to see whats ahead, but lights to make pedestrians aware of vehicles are vital. Until now, cars have been designed around fallible human beings, Hall said. Autonomous vehicles change that. In a world without panic stops, do you need passenger restraints like seat belts and air bags? Hall and Stein will be joined on the panel by Chris Borroni-Bird, co-author of Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility of the 21st Century, and Stewart Reed, chairman of transportation design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.

Nissan clicks on "Like" and "Share"

In a return to the tradition of car names that must sound great in other languages, Nissan unveiled the Friend-Me at the Shanghai auto show. Nissan designed the sleek four-passenger concept car to appeal to young people in Chinas one-child generation. About 240 million people were born in China during the 1980s, a potential market every automaker covets. The Friend-Me tries to reach out to them with a black center console running the length of the interior and video screens that allow occupants to share whatever interesting tidbits from their mobile devices to the Friend-Mes other occupants. Despite its far-out looks and features, Nissan says the Friend-Me uses the architecture of one of its current production vehicles, but it wont say which one.