You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News. Our co-host, Robert Siegel, is in Detroit for the Auto Show. The hot topics this year are different from past years -topics such as the survival of U.S. automakers and government oversight, but one thing remains unchanged at the auto show. There's still candy for the gear head, plenty of new concepts that may never reach the market, but to use a technical term, are really, really cool. And Robert is intrigued by one of them.


I was looking at the Chevy Spark. It's a concept car that's as small as a Smart Car. It's designed in South Korea. And where the rearview mirrors should be, instead, there were attachments that look like slender flashlights pointing backwards. They are cameras. You know, that backup camera in Prius or Mercedes or Lincoln Navigator, it shows what's behind you when you're backing up? Well, imagine cameras that are always on and that completely do away with the rearview mirror. Ed Welburn is GM's head of design.

Mr. ED WELBURN (Vice President of Global Design, General Motors): The outside rearview mirror has been with us since the early-teens when the first one was put on a race car, and outside rearview mirrors do a great job. But because of their size, they hurt the aerodynamics of the vehicle and as we try to improve the fuel economy, doing everything you can to improve the fuel economy, if you can eliminate those big aero-drag mirrors and just put a little camera there, it can help to improve the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. So, you put a camera on the outside and you put a nice screen on the inside. Cadillac Converj has two screens, one for each side of the car, and it's a very natural way of viewing - having, I think, an even better view of what's around you than the conventional mirror.

SIEGEL: The Chevy Spark that we're standing next to right now.

Mr. WELBURN: Yeah. We're here at the Chevrolet Spark.

SIEGEL: And there isn't even an inside rearview mirror on this…

Mr. WELBURN: Yeah, and they're using the cameras to kind of - the feel of view is really good with it. So, we explore - that's why we build concept vehicles, to explore things like this and others.

SIEGEL: Now, to somebody who's driving 40 years with rearview mirrors, driving without rearview mirrors sounds a little bit challenging.

Mr. WELBURN: Well, it is, depending on how you execute it. In the Cadillac, we placed those screens that are in the inside in locations that are very similar to turning your head to look at a rearview mirror. But, I think in some ways, once you get used to it, it's actually a whole lot easier.

SIEGEL: It sounds like you're picking up on the way that a generation processes information. You're talking to people who are on computers.


SIEGEL: And with video games.


SIEGEL: And this is how they see things.

Mr. WELBURN: Yeah. And I think if you're a young driver who has never experienced a conventional mirror, this would just make so much sense to you. If you've been driving with conventional mirrors for years, there'd be a bit of a learning curve but it is - trust me, it doesn't take long to make that conversion.

SIEGEL: That's Ed Welburn, General Motors' vice president of global design, describing what may be a feature of the GM car of the future, which of course, begs a central question of this year's Auto Show in Detroit - what kind of future does General Motors have?

NORRIS: That's our co-host, Robert Siegel, who's at the Detroit Auto Show this week. We'll be hearing more from him tomorrow.

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