Livonia-based TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. (NYSE: TRW) Wednesday unveiled a folding steering wheel concept which retracts into the dashboard to improve driver comfort getting in and out of a vehicle.

“The automotive industry is being influenced by some key factors, such as a more active older population and the growth of mega cities,” said Manuel Poyant, development manager for steering wheel systems and driver airbags for TRW. “As a result, vehicle manufacturers and suppliers need to find innovative solutions to improve driver accessibility and interior styling for smaller cars. The foldable steering wheel concept is a prime example of technology that allows easier access for elderly people and those faced with mobility challenges.”

The futuristic design of the retractable steering wheel was developed following an internal study for future steering wheel requirements. It features two retractable handles that close fully to create a smaller shape which then folds away into the dashboard, significantly improving driver comfort and accessibility. When the vehicle is started, the steering wheel deploys into the driving position which can be pre-set and saved by any driver as a chosen position.

“This technology could offer tangible, practical benefits in addition to the styling freedom it provides,” Poyant said. “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. Our customers have shown interest in the concept and the introduction of this technology could be possible within the next five years.”

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