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Foldable steering wheels could appear in 2016

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Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 11:40 pm | Updated: 12:16 am, Thu Sep 5, 2013.

As cellphones, computers and our lines of communication grow ever smaller and more consolidated, Michigan's TRW Automotive is working on extending those same principles to a place you may not have considered: your car.

With the rise in popularity of ultra fuel-efficient cars and electric cars, TRW is working on revolutionizing the automotive industry by developing a steering wheel that folds up and retracts into the dashboard when the vehicle is parked.

"This technology could offer tangible, practical benefits in addition to the styling freedom it provides," TRW development manager Manuel Poyant said in a press release.

"The key benefit is to make it much easier for elderly drivers or other drivers with reduced mobility to get in and out of the vehicle. Due to the significant growth of small city cars, this technology could open up the possibility for even smaller cabin designs."

The proposed design TRW is currently working with features two bisected handles that lock into place when the vehicle is being driven, but that fold inward into the dashboard once the engine is turned off.

When the driver once again starts the engine, the wheel is designed to automatically deploy into the driving position.

The primary market that TRW is gearing this development toward is the over-65 population, which numbered close to 36 million in 2009 and is projected to top 72 million by the year 2030.

But Poyant and the team at TRW don't want to wait that long to put it out on the market.

The company believes the retractable steering wheel could begin showing up in cars as early as 2016, and that it may even be part of an elderly focused equipment package that would make driving easier for people with limited mobility.

The steering wheel provides another benefit with its more secure style.

A potential car thief might be discouraged by the lack of a steering wheel in plain sight.

And although the only images the masses have seen thus far of TRW's designs are computer renderings of the theorized prototype, automotive manufacturers have already begun showing interest in the folding steering wheel, giving credence to TRW's goal of putting them in vehicles within the next five years.

Welcome to the discussion.