GM's New Steering Wheel Design Can Change Shape, Texture, and Size

Chris Teague
by Chris Teague

Other than a few controversial wheel designs and far more buttons, the steering wheel hasn’t changed all that much in the last several decades. Your car probably has an adjustable steering wheel that allows different height and telescoping settings. If it’s a fancy car, you may even have power adjustments and other options like a heated steering wheel or leather grips. Those are nice features, but General Motors’ latest idea goes several steps further.

GM Authority recently located a patent application that details an adaptive steering wheel rim. In addition to standard adjustments, GM’s adaptive wheel houses an inflatable bladder with a pump. Depending on their comfort level, the driver can inflate or deflate the bladder, and the wheel responds to drive mode settings, such as shifting to a thicker wheel for track driving or a softer setting for longer highway drives.  

GM’s filing notes that the wheel can shift its size, shape, hardness, and texture. It also adapts to driver hand size, location, and grip strength. Using an array of sensors, the system can automatically change wheel settings for a particular driver or profile, and GM says the driver can manually adjust the wheel when needed,

Drivers commonly swap steering wheels for specific driving scenarios, so an adaptive steering wheel would be a significant selling point for many people. Additionally, changing the steering wheel on any car made in the last 30 years is a massive challenge and may even be impossible for some vehicles. Since this is a patent filing, there’s no telling when or if we’ll see GM’s novel steering wheel, but it’s easy to imagine plenty of situations where it’d be nice to have. 

[Image: United States Patent and Trademark Office]

Chris Teague
Chris Teague

Chris grew up in, under, and around cars, but took the long way around to becoming an automotive writer. After a career in technology consulting and a trip through business school, Chris began writing about the automotive industry as a way to reconnect with his passion and get behind the wheel of a new car every week. He focuses on taking complex industry stories and making them digestible by any reader. Just don’t expect him to stay away from high-mileage Porsches.

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4 of 9 comments
  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Sep 13, 2022

    What could go wrong?

  • Statikboy Statikboy on Sep 13, 2022

    @ Kc and Art

    My 2 thoughts exactly.

  • AZFelix AZFelix on Sep 13, 2022

    Along the lines of the increasing complexity of headlight units, this trend ads to consumer costs, reliability concerns, and an accelerated disposable status of the entire vehicle due to repair access. The manufacturer disproportionately benefits from this in the end.

  • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Sep 14, 2022

    "the wheel can shift its size, shape, hardness, and texture"

    Someone at GM was spending too much time at an adult entertainment store!