Byline: Aaron M. Kessler
DETROIT -- One of the biggest coups of the recent North American International Auto Show was Ford's new GT, a sleek supercar that was developed in secret and revealed to a surprised audience.
The car, with a body made of carbon fiber, takes all of 3.2 seconds to reach 60 mph. It is aimed at giving Ford a showpiece of style and engineering that it hopes will bathe its lower-end cars in panache -- the so-called halo effect.
But the GT also is something of a first in the auto industry. At the same time that Ford engineers were developing the sports car for the real world, software engineers were working to build a digital version of the GT to star in the latest version of the Xbox racing video game, Forza Motorsport.
While video game developers have worked with automakers for years, it is rare for the two to partner from the start of a car's development -- and it meant that Ford had to invite the game developers into its inner circle at a time when few people, even at Ford, knew of the GT's existence.
The goal was to create a halo effect of a different sort, to woo elusive younger buyers who these days are less likely than their predecessors to drive.
"We can start building that connection at a young age,'' said Henry Ford III, who heads the automaker's performance marketing unit and oversees the project.
Ford III said he knew most teenagers would not be buying high-end sports cars for their first vehicle. But the company hopes that game enthusiasts who become passionate about Ford's fancier offerings will be drawn to one of its more modest vehicles as their real-world car.
Ultrarealistic driving games can replicate the sound, look and handling of actual cars down to the engine hum and chassis rattle.
But the creators of the next version of Forza are looking to take the realism a step further. To do that they needed a new level of behind-the-scenes access during the car's design and development. They pored over specifications, style and performance measures to begin...