June 22, 2024

Disney Ditching Autopia’s Gas Cars…Eventually


Disney has confirmed that Autopia, the classic wish fulfillment attraction that allows kids to drive cars, will be electrified at some point in the future. This post shares the details of the news, Disney Legend

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Disney has confirmed that Autopia, the classic wish fulfillment attraction that allows kids to drive cars, will be electrified at some point in the future. This post shares the details of the news, Disney Legend Bob Gurr’s reaction, and our thoughts on what should be done with both this ride at Disneyland and Tomorrowland Speedway at Magic Kingdom.

Let’s start with the announcement itself, which comes indirectly via a long-winded piece from the climate columnist for the Los Angeles Times. The article reads as if it were a predetermined op-ed arguing that Disney should ditch oil and go electric at Autopia, a position with which I agree. The author mentions “several weeks of my prodding the company for answers on the future of Autopia” before publication. Finally, he received the following statement from Disney:

“Since opening with Disneyland park in 1955, Autopia has remained a guest-favorite most popular with young kids experiencing driving for the first time,” spokesperson Jessica Good said in an email. “As the industry moves toward alternative fuel sources, we have developed a roadmap to electrify this attraction and are evaluating technology that will enable us to convert from gas engines in the next few years.”

I mention the prodding and the op-ed angle for a couple of reasons. First, this isn’t an exclusive that Disney gave to the LAT; they did not even confirm whether the replacement will be electric vehicles or hybrids. Second, Disney provided no timeline or other details–only a vague statement that they’ve developed a roadmap, are evaluating technology, and it will enable them to convert from gas engines in the next few years. To me, this reads less like a concrete plan by Disney and more a way to assuage the author’s concerns while still being fairly non-committal to anything.

Of course, I could be misreading this. But I’m skeptical that this evinces a firm plan or even constitutes an actual announcement. Disney uses a lot of wiggle words that suggest they’re still looking into it. None of that is necessary, as Imagineering has already done exactly this at Hong Kong Disneyland, which had (past tense) a version of Autopia that used electric vehicles! So it’s not as if Disney would really need to reinvent the wheel on this one…just do what they already did back in 2006.

Back when it was announced that Tomorrowland Speedway would be closing ahead of TRON Lightcycle Run construction in 2018-2019, our hope was that Imagineering would take the opportunity to convert the attraction to electric and use the HKDL Autopia fleet and other props that had been salvaged from that extinct attraction. Obviously, that did not occur.

Disney Legend Bob Gurr is the original designer of the Autopia cars, and perhaps the most prolific living Imagineer. (Gurr is basically a rockstar, and you should make every effort to hear him speak about…anything…if you have the opportunity to attend one of the many events he does.) Gurr was pretty blunt about what Disney should do with Autopia: “Get rid of those God-awful gasoline fumes.”

In speaking with the LA Times, Gurr also expressed a grander vision for Tomorrowland as a hub for stories about renewable energy, public transit and other sustainable technologies that will help us create a better tomorrow. He says it’s time for an Autopia where guests “don’t smell the fumes, don’t hear that racket of the little motor going putt-putt-putt.”

Gurr contends that guests would enjoy a Tomorrowland with brighter colors and more kinetic energy, where they could “hear these whirring sounds like little tiny jets and turbines all over the place.” Gurr added that he’d “love to have really sexy-sounding electric cars.” None of this is the least bit surprising if you’ve ever talked to Gurr or even heard him speak. Even today, he’s very forward-thinking with eyes on the future rather than the past.

Turning to commentary, I’m fully on board with converting to EVs in Autopia and Tomorrowland Speedway and have been since first riding the far superior attraction at Hong Kong Disneyland over a decade ago. Even then, it seemed so obvious that the versions of the ride at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom were stuck in the past. Not necessarily from an environmentalist perspective (although that too), but in terms of the experience. Autopia was actually enjoyable!

We’ve often “joked” that Tomorrowland Speedway is a great way to enjoy loud noise, vehicle exhaust stench, and incur some mild brain damage. I suppose that’s all part of the fun–everyone knows cognitive abilities are overrated. (This blog is proof positive of that!) We barely even ride either version of the attraction anymore, save for the holiday overlay. I’m not exactly in a rush to get Megatron on it, either.

Autopia is one of many attractions that’s better at Disneyland, thanks to its more engaging track, lush environment and interconnectedness of Tomorrowland. It also received new life back in 2016, with the addition of ASIMO and Bird–two characters who now appear in show scenes thanks to the Honda sponsorship. Even then, I remember rumors/wishful thinking that Autopia would be converted to EVs.

At this point, my guess is that Autopia will be due for another update around 2026-2027, which is likely when the current Honda deal ends. Either they’ll reup and commit to funding an EV overhaul, or Disney will find a different sponsor for the attraction. The most likely outcome is Honda returning as sponsor–the company has a long partnership with Disneyland and is probably one of the resort’s biggest corporate alliance deals.

What I’d instead like to see happen is Disneyland partner with an upstart EV maker. For the longest time, Tesla was the target among fans; it was all wishful thinking, no actual rumors. And that made sense, as the brand was the darling of Southern Californians and there was a sea of Teslas in Burbank and Glendale lots. It’s safe to assume there’s no longer any chance of that happening given Elon Musk’s recent remarks (etc.) about Disney.

Personally, I’d love to see a partnership with Rivian. This company is based in nearby Irvine and has a strong presence in Laguna Beach, where their flagship showroom is located. We’ve stopped in a few times, and it’s really cool–Rivian is actively involved in the community, too. More to the point, Rivian has an eye-catching design. It’s an acquired taste that isn’t for everyone, but it would translate really well to Autopia cars that you aren’t going to buy and drive daily.

Beyond that, what I like to see happen is Autopia shortened. The ride takes up a ton of valuable real estate at Disneyland, and at least some of that could be put to better use when the old Innoventions building is inevitably demolished. I don’t know to what extent Autopia could be condensed since the monorail winds above it (and I wouldn’t want to lose any of that), but I’d imagine its entrance could be moved to accommodate a larger plot for expansion.

When it comes to Walt Disney World, my dream is for Tomorrowland Speedway to bite the dust entirely. I know this is a controversial opinion or hot take that’s often criticized by parents as overlooking how important the ride is as a rite of passage for kids. Now that I’m a parent, I feel like I have more latitude to say that, while true, it’s also a massive waste of space.

Just look at what Tokyo Disneyland did, replacing its Grand Circuit Raceway with Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast and the Happy Ride with Baymax. In fairness, those attractions occupy more than just the former speedway plot, but there’s also more to that expansion than just those two rides. The point is that it’s a massive amount of real estate in Magic Kingdom that could not only become a couple of attractions, but also offer a better transition from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland and open up more pathways to TRON Lightcycle Run so it doesn’t feel isolated from the rest of the park.

Finally, I’d love a modernization of both Tomorrowlands. For me, this simply looks like rolling the look back to the mid-century Space Age design of old. Bring in Googie architecture, and add flourishes of biomimicry and the end result is a design that’s retro-futuristic and timeless. I think this would work well on both coasts, and address the perpetual Tomorrowland problem. This has been on my wishlist for the last few D23 Expos…we’ll see if 2024 is the year it finally gets announced! (I’m not holding my breath this time.)

Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets. Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings. For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney. For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide. Finally, for guides beyond Disney, check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and many other SoCal cities!

Your Thoughts

What do you think of Disney retiring the Autopia gas cars for electrified vehicles? Hope that it’s just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to Tomorrowland changes? Would you like to see Autopia or Tomorrowland Speedway replaced entirely, condensed, or remain untouched? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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