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SAN JOSE, Calif.--Alternative-fuel cars are coming of age, and some of the latest technologies coming into production were on display yesterday at the "Future Cars, Future Technology" event at Club Auto Sport in San Jose, Calif.

The symposium, which included panel discussions and auto industry speakers, focused on electric, hybrid, and natural-gas vehicles, which are increasingly making their way to U.S. markets.

The Mercedes ML350, seen here, is a so-called clean diesel vehicle which features the Bluetec system, reducing smog-causing nitrogen oxides to nitrogen and water vapor. The vehicle, with 240 horsepower, gets better gas mileage on the highway than some 4-cylinders and hybrids, says the carmaker, and it has a cruising range of over 600 miles.

The Mercedes ML350 is currently available nationwide.
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The Magnetic Air Car, created by a San Jose company of the same name, uses a magnetic motor to compress air and power the vehicle. The motor saves moderately compressed high-pressure air in storage tanks. A pneumatic torque converter then uses jets of the high-pressure air to turn an input shaft of a transmission and differential.

The Magnetic Air Car is a prototype and currently under development. It's expected to come to market by 2013.
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The 2012 Chevy Volt electric vehicle is all-electric for the first 35 miles, and then runs as a hybrid vehicle as the battery diminishes.

There are so many competing technologies--from hybrids and electrics to magnets and hydrogen--that automakers are still searching for the right combination of efficiency, economy, and mass appeal for a real alternative to the traditional gasoline combustion engine.

The 2012 Chevy Volt is available now.
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The Toyota Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle (FCHV) features four hydrogen fuel tanks, an electric motor, a nickel metal hydride battery, and a power control unit.

The hydrogen gas is fed into the fuel cell stack where it is combined with oxygen. The electricity produced by this chemical reaction is used to power the electric motor and to charge the battery. The motor functions as a generator under deceleration to regenerate energy with a maximum power output of 90 kilowatts and a maximum torque of 260 Newton meters.

A number of Toyota Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle prototypes have been produced, and Toyota plans a full-scale commercial hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to launch in 2015.
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A group of design students from the San Francisco Academy of Art were at the show to present their ideas rethinking the automobile, looking years into the future.

Patrick Vanderpool showed CNET a few of the designs and models that redesigned Lincoln's vision of what the car might be in 2035. In addition to conceptualizing a car-sharing model, the teams constructed various models for different classes and different use cases, including transportation, vacation, and sport.
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Rethinking what the car might be in 2035, the San Francisco Academy of Art showed off conceptual designs at the event.
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The 2012 Mitsubishi Miev, also called the "i," plugs into a standard 120-volt household outlet. Starting on empty, the 120V charging method gives you a full battery in about 22.5 hours and has an EPA-designated range of 62 miles.

The MiEV has been on sale in Japan since 2009, and is currently available in Europe and in the United States in California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii.
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The Mercedes-Benz F-Cell converts compressed hydrogen into electricity for a range of about 240 miles, the equivalent of nearly 90 mpg on the highway, with only water vapor as emissions.

Southern California is the only region in the country that currently has more than one hydrogen fueling station, so the F-Cell is currently only available in Los Angeles.
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The Fiat 500EV benefits from a small, lightweight platform perfect for integrating electric-vehicle technology, says the carmaker.

The automaker says the new Fiat 4-cylinder, Fully Integrated Robitized Engine (FIRE) is designed to boost power, cut emissions, and increase fuel efficiency, giving the 1.4-liter engine as much power as possible.

The Fiat 500EV is currently available in Europe and is expected to make its way to North America in late 2012.
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With these emerging fuel technologies, the future is the theme of the day. This DeLorean is one of the original vehicles used in the "Back to the Future" movies.
Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET
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