Home » Disneyland’s ‘Autopia’ Is Ditching Its Awesome Gasoline Cars For EVs, But I Have Ideas On How To Keep It fun

Disneyland’s ‘Autopia’ Is Ditching Its Awesome Gasoline Cars For EVs, But I Have Ideas On How To Keep It fun

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I’m not really someone who is into amusement parks as such, but I do have a bit of a soft spot for Disneyland.

This mostly comes from when I lived in LA, and we had one of the local residents’ annual pass things, which meant on some summer Wednesday nights after work, my wife and then-little kid and I could tootle down to Disneyland and spend a very enjoyable warm night there, when the park was relatively empty, the lines were short, the corn dogs were hot and yielded to a bite with just the right amount of resistance , the kiddo was delighted by everything, and all was right in the world.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

On these Wednesday nights I grew to appreciate the peculiar charms of Autopia (no relation to the Autopian), the ride in Tomorrowland with the little cars, designed to celebrate California’s then-new freeway system. Disney has announced that the Autopia ride will be converted from gasoline power to electric at some point in the next few years. There’s a weirdly over-the-top column in the Los Angeles Times about the current state of Autopia, and it makes it sound like the ride is located in the middle of a petroleum refinery that’s being bombed with coal. I agree that, sure, it’s time to make Autopia electric, but I think there’s a lot of charm to the old gas motor experience worth preserving. And I have some ideas.

First, we have to talk about this LA Times column. Here’s how it starts:

The air tastes putrid. The traffic is terrible. The engines are loud, the oil-stained roadways ugly and antiquated.

This is Autopia, part of Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland, where kids from around the world come to dream about the future.

Holy shit, dude, relax! Putrid? I mean, yeah, you can smell gas fumes, and he’s certainly not the only person to complain about that, but it’s hardly like some dystopian hellscape. You’re still in Disneyland, for fudge’s sake. And traffic? What traffic? It’s a ride, not the fucking 405, those are just the other cars in the ride, it’s not traffic. And just how lovely do you really need your concrete roadways to be?

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I mean, I agree, sure, it’s not exactly futuristic. The ride did get an upgrade in 2016 to new lower-emissions engines from Honda, specifically four-stroke 270cc iGX270 engines that made an impressive 8.5 horsepower at 3,600 RPM. They’re governed to a maximum speed of 6.5 mph, and the steering is governed, too, kept on a set path by that big central concrete median thing that rests between the wheels. I get that an 8.5 270cc engine feels a bit more like a postwar-European microcar, but I’ve always felt the whole of Tomorrowland was really more of a view to the future from a mid-century vantage point. Exhibits and rides age, which is why the famous EPCOT center seemed futuristic when it opened in 1982 but a strange and slightly sad if optimistic throwback in more recent years.

Really, it’s just not that unpleasant. I know you can’t smell any putridness from this video (if you are smelling any, maybe take a moment to assess some recent life choices) but this feels pretty much how I remember Autopia feeling:

People have been talking about converting Autopia to EV for years now; here’s a whole Reddit thread about just that from three years ago. The thread also notes that other Disneylands, such as the Hong Kong Disneyland, already have electric-powered Autopia rides:

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Autopia is a perfect candidate for electrification, of course. It’s a fixed track, so range doesn’t matter, and neither do batteries, really, since this would be an ideal place for inductive charging systems to power the cars as long as they’re on the track. But even if certain smell-sensitive or otherwise soul-deadened people can’t see the appeal of a loud gas motor that vibrates and sounds like a Hitachi massager set to high while in a metal wastebasket while pumping out clouds of rich, creamery exhaust, then that’s their problem. Luckily, I have some ideas about how the charm of these combustion motors can be retained, even in an all-electric Autopia future.

Here’s what I’m thinking for the cars:

Autopia Evcar1

So, I’m assuming we can retain the same basic body and most components of the Autopia cars – they’re icons, after all, right? We just need to yank those Honda engines and drop in some little electric motors – maybe 9 hp or so, just so we can say there was an upgrade in power.

We’re not going to need to worry about batteries, because that would be nuts; these things are on a track, so we can have electrical conductors set into the track itself, with spring-loaded contacts below the car, or, if we want to be really fancy, a nice inductive system could be used that would require no physical contacts whatsoever, at the expense of some efficiency. This also could be safer than having any exposed electrical contacts, too.

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We’ll actually want another electric motor in there, but not for propulsion; this one is for vibrations! Yes, we’ll have a motor with an off-center weight, like a giant cell phone vibration motor, mounted via springs inside the car, to emulate the vibrations and rocking of the old combustion motor, because it’s fun, dammit.

We’ll also have a couple speakers for synthetic engine sounds (selectable by the rider!) because who wants these to be silent? It’s not a damn library.

Finally, to reclaim the joy of smells and the visuals of exhaust, we’ll need two more components. The first is some sort of (ideally) non-toxic and environmentally safe chemical stench system. I’m imagining a few tanks of basic stinks that can be mixed by the rider to craft an optimal smell-sperience. It needn’t just be exhaust and oil smells! There could be any number of olfactory components, swapped out seasonally, perhaps? An aerosol spray system would spray the scents out the car’s “exhaust” pipes.

Along with the smells, the exhaust pipes will also carry colored powders that can be blasted out to create large, festive clouds of colorful “not-exhaust.” Think those colored powders used during the Hindi Holi festival to get a sense of what I mean. You’ve seen the videos of people playing with this kind of stuff; it’ll be messy and colorful and fun, the ideal combination.

Autopia Dash

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One thing the ride always needed more of was stuff for the rider to do; you can really only affect the speed, since the steering is mostly guided by the central rib thing. And the passenger needs something fun to do. My EV Autopia enhancements give plenty to do. The dash, formerly quite barren save for the steering wheel, can now have controls for sounds (mimicking a variety of drivetrains, from V8s to futuristic EVs to turbines or whatever), vibration intensity, the smells mixing panel (each slider would be labeled for whatever stench tanks are installed) and a set of red, green, blue sliders and a button for the exhaust clouds, which can be re-colored and launched on demand!

There’s so much fun stuff to do this way!

Now, what about powering all of this? Electricity is neither magic nor free, and that power needs to come from somewhere. The good news is that Disneyland is crammed full of sources of energy, energy that is currently not being tapped at all: the people.

Yes, the people! Expending all that energy that no one is harnessing! Well, I have three ideas how to reclaim some of it:

Autopia Energycoll Mf3

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First, walking. There’s people walking all over Disneyland. Why not transform those footsteps into usable energy? People are already trying this out, via piezoelectric sidewalks and similar sorts of things:

It’s a near constant flow of walking people at Disneyland; surely there’s energy that can be reclaimed there.

Those people also produce prodigious amounts of waste; instead of pumping all of that rich, energy-filled nightsoil into the sewage system, why not turn it into biogas and feed a local power plant? Let the tourists shit their way to fun!

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And finally, and most revolutionarily, it’s time to harness the considerable energies of toddlers having tantrums. One of the paradoxes of places like Disneyland is that it’s often stressful on everyone, and tired, excited, and overwhelmed kids – and sometimes adults – can lose their shit and throw a full-blown tantrum. A tantrum is really just a way to expel excess, misdirected energy, so why not harness it?

This system would involve installing Tantrum Energy Harvesters (TEHs) at strategic points in the park; when a child or adult starts to lose their shit, they’re carefully wrestled onto the treadmill, their limbs connected to the energy-reclamation tethers, and then allowed to have a full-on tantrum right there on the machine until they exhaust themselves. The kinetic tantrum energy is harvested mechanically via the tethers, connected to flywheels and gears, and the treadmill, and then pumped back into the grid or stored in large lithium-ion batteries.

Trust me, it’ll be great! Wow, I think I just solved everything here! Hot damn. Even if Autopia never smelled “putrid.” Jeez.

 

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Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
12 days ago

Nice! The writers of that stupid article you mentioned should have to go into the Tantrum Energy Harvesters every time they bitch about gas/oil

Oxfordreno
Oxfordreno
13 days ago

I remember this ride being fun when I was a kid who’d never had the chance to drive a car. Upon returning as an adult with my child last summer I found the ride to be the single most boring one in the park (with the exception of its neighbouring submarine) and that opinion was mirrored by daughter. I also have to agree with the other review that it smelled terrible and felt decidedly un futuristic. I’m not sure how it was ever futuristic, we’re cars supposed to get smaller as society advanced!?

Ben
Ben
13 days ago

Counterpoint: This ride was never fun and the only good thing about it is it keeps some number of people out of the lines for the better rides. It doesn’t matter how bad the new mechanics of the ride are because the old ones were terrible too.

Isaac Fortner
Isaac Fortner
13 days ago

I have a much different take: ditch the Autopia ride vehicles as we know them today and use the trackless vehicle platform Disney has been using on a lot of rides lately like Luigi’s Roadsters, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Rise of the Resistance, etc.

These trackless vehicles can be waterproofed (Tokyo DisneySea has “Aquatopia”, an aquatic trackless ride), and Luigi’s Roadsters already have a car body and speaker system on them. These have a relatively small onboard battery that charges by touching bus bars in the loading area.

Change the car bodies to have a working steering wheel and pedal (Autopia cars auto-brake letting off the pedal) and change the drive wheels to handle sloped roads and bumpy surfaces, then modify the Autopia track layout to remove the guide rail. Add a real water crossing, rough terrain, “high speed” sections, etc.

The trackless vehicles always know where they are, so they won’t collide with other vehicles and can add extra dynamics like “drifting”, spinning out, etc. Cars could actually pass each other.

There’s potential here to go full-on MarioKart using power ups to affect your car or others, but Universal owns that franchise and I doubt Disney is that interested in that level of complexity.

The integration here is complicated, but Disney already has a great vehicle for this with lots of experience using that platform in creative ways, including ones like Luigi’s Roadsters where there are actual cars running quite close to each other.

Last edited 13 days ago by Isaac Fortner
Crimedog
Crimedog
13 days ago

Am I the only one that, at first glance, wondered why he was side-dumping salt and pepper?

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
13 days ago

This is madness.

You want straight-cut gears with a loud audible whine to them to give that retro-future sound of acceleration. And you want absolutely smoothness as you pull away. Embrace the modernity, don’t fake the old-timeyness.

SBMtbiker
SBMtbiker
13 days ago

They need to do some computer programing to lessen the instant torque of the electric motors or someone is really going to get hurt!

Cyko9
Cyko9
13 days ago

I enjoy these Torchinsky brainstorms! On the surface, it’s madness, but as you think through it, a lot of these points not only make sense, but are also attainable. Really, this made me realize the smell of a gas-powered go-kart track is going extinct. Visitors to DL probably wouldn’t relate to it anyway, so electric is the way to go. I’m sure they’ll be short-sighted enough to use batteries in each car rather than inductive power. But that dashboard busybox is a fantastic idea!

Matt Butler
Matt Butler
13 days ago

While electrification is inevitable, I will admit that not “hearing” the cars will be something that I’ll miss. It’s always been there throughout all my visits to ‘Land & ‘World. It’s kinda like a familiar smell that let’s you know where you are without looking.

Scott Ross
Scott Ross
13 days ago

Going electric isnt surprising. If the older Jalopnik Staff remembers they used to go to a track Called Kart2Kart, that was bought out, renamed full throttle adrenaline park and now has gone electric with their Karts

Scott Ross
Scott Ross
13 days ago

The CA Disney park will have electric, FL will mandate that Autopia goes full diesel at WDW.

Chronometric
Chronometric
13 days ago

Now that phone book listings are passe, this is the kind of spontaneous publicity that makes people (and websites). Stick with me here.

Autopia, sponsored by The Autopian

Concept by Jason Torchinsky
Car exterior by Adrian, with BIG wheels
Interiors and gadgets by The Bishop
Driving dynamics by Huibert
Off road segment by David Tracy
Soundtrack and promotion by Hardigree
Maintenance facility by Gossin

And the new Autopia drives through EPCOT so…
Canadian section by Hundal drives on ice
Australian section by Lewin loses its trunk and switches road side

After the inevitable runaway success of the new Autopia, Mercedes is contracted to create Motopia and redesign Camp Wilderness

Last edited 13 days ago by Chronometric
Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
13 days ago

I’d go the opposite route on making the EVs more ‘active’, have loud sparking brushed DC motors popping out of the back so it’s like your old Tyco racing set, complete with electric spark smell!

First Last
First Last
13 days ago

I think Disney already captured the “tomorrow” of transportation in the movie Wall-E. They should just remove the steering wheels and make the Autopia cars fully autonomous with 64 oz cup holders for each hand, and video screens to entertain the kids and distract them so they don’t even know they’re moving. A tray full of corn dogs and sodas when you get on, and a Wegovy shot from a friendly robot as you get off.

Scott Ross
Scott Ross
13 days ago
Reply to  Ncbrit

Lousy Rocket rods ruining the People mover track

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