A concept car created by a design team at General Motors has a new spin on home ownership.

The GMC PAD, short for Portable Architectural Dwelling, is a high-tech drivable house that is at home on the road or in a parking lot.

And it’s not the mobile home that your grandparents drive to Arizona each winter. Its designers envision a media-rich “urban loft with mobility,” with wall-mounted television screens and wireless Internet capability. The vehicle also is equipped with solar panels and a diesel-electric hybrid power system.

The PAD, dreamed up by the General Motors West Coast Advanced Design Studio, took first prize this month in a Los Angeles Auto Show design challenge. Judges dubbed the vehicle an “LAV,” or Living Activity Vehicle, and one judge stated that the PAD represents “a new segment between the RV and the SUV.” The “L.A. Adventure” competition challenged designers to develop a vehicle suited to Southern California activities.

With a long tubular shape and futuristic design, the PAD appears to be an exotic blend of yacht, space shuttle and robotic inchworm.

“With the GMC PAD, home is where you want it. And commuting is what other people do,” according to promotional materials prepared for the concept vehicle. The PAD is an answer to the rising cost of homes — housing affordability is a big issue throughout California communities, with home-price appreciation outpacing income growth.

“It’s a home-ownership concept that enables cultural and geographic freedom for the modern city dweller. It’s a concept that represents a reasoned solution to the problems of urban sprawl, development and its damaging effects on the region’s environment.”

The latest California Association of Realtors housing affordability index found that about 14 percent of households in the state and 11 percent of Los Angeles households could afford a median-priced home in November 2005. Home prices in the Los Angeles region shot up about 21 percent in November 2005 compared to November 2004 — from $474,720 to $575,310.

“The fundamental premise was the idea that if you really want adventure in Los Angeles, try to find affordable housing for entry-level professionals,” said Steve Anderson, who was in charge of the concept and strategy for the PAD project.

The PAD was designed specifically for the auto show competition, though Anderson said he’s hoping that the vehicle has the potential to go into production.

“Our true hope is that it does become a reality and we have the opportunity to help it see the light of day. I think it’s a great solution,” Anderson said. “There is by no means a green light for production. We conceived it as a vehicle that couldn’t have been built yesterday.”

Some of the necessary technologies would need refinement, he said, and the concept calls for collaborations with other companies, such as Thermador for kitchen appliances and Kohler for bathroom appliances. “This is more like an architecture project than a car design project,” he said. The effort shows that General Motors is looking beyond transportation solutions to “lifestyle solutions,” Anderson added.

The next step in the design process would be to build a scale model of a PAD — the vehicle now exists only as three-dimensional computerized models.

PAD designers examined “current and traditional assumptions of home ownership and why a young single person or couple has to go home to the same piece of dirt, the same house every night. This (vehicle) allows them to have all of the comforts they would expect in a modern dwelling, and park it close to where they work or where they want to be,” Anderson said.

In the 1970s, GM introduced a then-sleek and stylish MotorHome. There was a 23-foot model and a 26-foot model, with 15 available floor plans and four varieties of interior decor.

The PAD is a smaller vehicle — about the size of a large FedEx delivery truck, Anderson said, with a ceiling height of 8 1/2 feet to 9 feet. Fully loaded, the GMC PAD might cost about $250,000 to $300,000.

The biggest misconception about the PAD is that it is intended as a recreational vehicle, Anderson said. “It’s not recreational at all. It’s about living. It is as permanent as absolutely possible.”

Driving and sleeping are “two things that are kind of relegated as subordinate activities” in the PAD design, which leaves more room for a multimedia living room, a designer kitchen and a personal spa area, Anderson said.

The target audience for the vehicle is young professionals for whom “the sense of permanence in lifestyle isn’t as important as it would be later in life.” The vehicle is designed to house one or two people but probably is a bit too confined for a family, he said.

The vehicle’s diesel-electric motor would serve as an on-board power plant, generating electricity for the vehicle’s engine while running and powering up the vehicle’s electric systems while it is parked. The PAD would also come equipped with solar panels.

If the PAD is purchased as a second home, owners may qualify for special tax deductions, Anderson said — boat and motor-home owners can receive tax deductions if those forms of transportation are equipped with a kitchen and bathroom.

There are a number of possible specialized uses for PADs, he noted — the vehicle could be used as temporary housing at a construction site or for disaster relief efforts. The entertainment industry could use PADs to house movie stars during a film shoot, and they could serve the media as livable communications hubs. Anderson said he received an e-mail from a man who lost his home last year to Hurricane Katrina. “He said, ‘If I’d had a PAD, I would still have a property.’ It was interesting validation.”

PAD designers proposed exterior cameras that can project images from outside the vehicle onto its large interior media screens, and the large windows in the front and back of the vehicle give owners the “opportunity to park beachside and enjoy the views,” Anderson said. The vehicle also features a “SkyDeck” that provides views through large ceiling windows. When privacy is preferred, occupants can flick a switch to make the windows opaque.


Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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