Your chariot awaits: GMs EN-V models use a chassis that operates much like a Sedgway scooter and is as easy to drive.

Your chariot awaits: GM's EN-V models use a chassis that operates much like a Sedgway scooter and is as easy to drive.

'Better city, better life', is the theme of Shanghai's Expo 2010, which closes at the end of the month. The city is home to 20m people and it seems, as locals rush to see the international pavilions before they close, about 19m are there every day at the moment. More realistically, over 1m passed through the turnstiles last Saturday (16 October) and the wait for popular pavilions such as China's own could be as long as five hours.

As the dominant auto industry player in China, with its joint ventures with Shanghai Auto, General Motors has made the most of getting its message across to a captive audience. The SAIC-GM pavilion's key attraction is a Disney-esque audio-visual treat, complete with seat motion, that attempts to predict what city motoring might be like in 2030.

Noting that 600m people worldwide are unable to enjoy independent personal mobility due to disabilities such as limited sight, GM envisages most of us whizzing about in little two-seat automated pods like its EN-V electric runabouts, guided unerringly by computers without the need for inconveniences like drivers and traffic lights.

Parking? Not a problem. An apartment dweller will be driven into a special lift at the entrance to the building and the car and its occupants are then whisked to their own balcony, from which the car remains slung in its own little pod until needed again. You board from your own balcony and, on arrival at destination – shopping centre, office, airport - you abandon the car which drives itself into a carousel and is automatically stacked away in a building made much more compact as there is no need for pedestrian lifts or walkways. When you need transport again, you summon the pod with whatever the 2030 equivalent of a cellphone is. And, as there is now no need for the inconvenience of actually driving (though you can), your road time can be taken up with movies, phoning, texting, computing, Facebook, tweeting and all those other little distractions currently not advised while in charge of a conveyance.

Pressed, GM China chiefs, who enlisted some of the movie world's top visual effects people to create the Imax-like presentation, admit that they really don't know what the future is like but they know they simply can't keep pouring new cars and drivers into increasingly crowded cities with limited road and parking space. By 2030, they predict, 60% of the world's population will live in urban areas, up from 50% now. And 80% of wealth will be concentrated there. Letting computers feed self-drive cars through intersections in all directions at once using electronic collision avoidance seems one sure way to tackle congestion and hanging them on the sides of owners' apartments in much the same way air conditioners are installed today solves the age-old problem of Where to Park.

Sure, such concepts will require a lot of joined-up thinking and a lot more cooperation between automakers and governments than we see at the moment. But at least someone is thinking about it, and that's a start.