Photos: Design concept cars

As part of our retrospective of the 2007-08 auto show season, we're taking a look at the concept vehicles most likely to influence the design of production cars in the next few years. As a sign of the times, most of the cars in our roundup feature some kind of advanced or alternative-fuel drivetrain technology, while many of them hint at some of the new cabin gadgets that might soon be hitting the mainstream.

Kevin Massy
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Unveiled at the Geneva auto show, this design study from Italian company Pininfarina is aimed at combining external style with interior functionality. The Sintensi's body features a "looped" unbroken line which follows the contours of the car and a sharply cropped rear end for better aerodynamics. Interior space is maximized by the elimination of an engine compartment. Instead, the Sintesi is designed around four sets of fuel cells that are situated close the wheel compartments
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According to Pininfarina, the exterior lines are echoed in the interior of the car to wrap drivers in a "soft, fluid space." Its designers say that the Sintesi will feature a new communications system that has its own intelligence, and which translates external signs and information to the driver through a "lanuguage...Of lights and colors". More realistically, the Sintesi also incorporates a vehicle-to-vehicle communications system based on radio technology from Reicom.
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From the designer that brought us the De Lorean DMC-12 comes the wedge-shaped Quaranta. It doesn't look like a hybrid or a Toyota, but the rear-engined four-wheel drive coupe makes use of the Hybrid Synergy Drive similar to that found in the Prius. The environmental design continues with roof-mounted solar panels, which are used to power the cabin electronics and for recharging the battery. In true concept-car style, the Quaranta features an elaborate door arrangement with an automatic front-hinged mechanism.
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Designers at Maserati beware: there is a whole new generation of drawing-board divas waiting to take your place. That was the message from the Chicane design study, created by students from the Instituto Europeo di Design for this year's Geneva auto show. The full-scale model of the 2+2 coupe combines Batmobile-fenders with swoopy lines and sharp creases not typically associated with the refined styling of Maserati, while still managing to retain an elegant profile.
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Soft top or retractable hardtop? That is the question that most buyers of convertible cars have to ask themselves. Webasto is attempting to blur the difference between the two roof designs with its LigHT concept (the HT stands for "hybrid top").
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The manually retractable roof of the LigHT is made from a combination of polyurethane for the roof panel and a polycarbonate rear window. The roof, which rotates around a single fixed point aft of the cockpit, makes use of self-supporting surface cross members connected by film hinges.
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Something of a cross between a squished convertible coupe and a topless crossover SUV, the Cross Cabriolet Concept breaks new ground for Audi. Powered by a 3-liter turbo diesel hooked up to a Quatrro drivetrain, the Cross Cabriolet features a canvass folding top, which hides neatly away behind the rear passengers.
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From the front, the Cross Cabriolet takes Audi's recent one-piece grille design a stage further with a face reminiscent of Jaws from the James Bond movies. More impressively, the car is also a mule for some of Audi's more inventive cabin tech, including a Google Earth-powered nav system, streaming Internet radio, and a person-to-person intercom system.

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The Furai continues Mazda's line of Nagare-themed concept cars. Based on the Courage C65 chassis, used by Mazda in the American Le Mans Series, the Furai is specced out as a flex-fuel car with a 450 horsepower triple rotary engine. Mazda has no plans to produce the Furai as a race or street car, although some of the design language may hint at the shape of the rumored Mazda RX-9.
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Something of an oxymoron, the HX is a touted as a Hummer with environmentally-conscious credentials. The HX is the smallest Hummer yet, but maintains the brand's off-road capabilities. It is powered by a new V-6 designed to run off of ethanol and various ethanol-gasoline blends.
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With the A-Bat, Toyota returns to the mini-truck style it made popular in the 1970s. Environmental concerns inspired Toyota to make this small truck and fit it with a four-cylinder hybrid powertrain, similar to that used in the Camry Hybrid.
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As its name implies, the ecoVoyager is a people mover based on an environmentally conscious design. The proposed drivetrain comprises an advanced lithium ion battery pack with a with a small, hydrogen fuel cell that serves as a range extender. Without the need for a combustion engine up front, the ecoVoyager makes use of the free space with a "one-box" exterior design that combines cab-forward body style with a parabolic roof line.
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The Zeo gives us one of the first looks at the direction of Chrysler's design philosophy in its post-Daimler phase. While the Zeo's lithium ion-powered electric drivetrain is likely to be some way from production, the car's body style might hint at Dodge's plans for a 2+2 coupe.
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The Kizashi 2 is a "crossover sports wagon" according to Suzuki. Sitting higher up than the original Kizashi, the sequel uses the same powertrain, a 3.6-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic. According to Suzuki, it is also looking into hybrid technology for the model.
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Among the many concepts Nissan displayed at the 2007 Tokyo auto show, the Intima was the most striking in design and clarity of purpose. This sport luxury concept uses sweeping external lines and nicely placed LED exterior lights. With a proposed clean diesel V-6, it should have plenty of torque should it ever come to market.
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Nissan took as many pains with the interior as with the exterior. The doors open suicide-style for wide open access, and the front passenger seat rotates out 80 degrees. Nissan refers to it as a hospitality seat.
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Honda seemed to be floundering a bit in its design direction at recent auto shows, but if the CR-Z is an indication, the company has found the right line. This lightweight sports car looks like it could be a good model for the next Civic Si. Honda specifies a hybrid powertrain for the CR-Z, but we hope it will be something a little less anemic than that found in the Civic hybrid.
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Don't call it a concept. The F700 is a "research car," according to Mercedes, which used the luxury sedan to show off some of its latest drivetrain and cabin-tech innovations at the 2007 Frankfurt auto show. Among the highlights are its innovative 1.8-liter DiesOtto engine, which combusts gasoline through compression rather than spark; and "Prescan" suspension, which uses headlight-mounted lasers to recognize the condition of the road ahead and modify the suspension in advance for a more comfortable ride.

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