Photos: Designing the future--Concept car retrospective

Every year at car shows around the world, car makers show off new design ideas. Concept cars represent a transition between current and future models, with only certain features finding their way into production cars. In our collection of photos from the last car show season, Honda struggles to find a way forward, while Mazda explores a very distinct design language. Chevrolet works on environmental issues and Toyota seeks a Prius successor.

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Positioned as a "micro SUV," the front-wheel-drive Trax features an innovative drivetrain, with a 1-liter gasoline engine assisted by a battery-pack-driven electric motor that drives the rear wheels, creating a hybrid four-wheel-drive system.
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The Chevrolet Volt shows off the capabilities of new composite materials from GE and GM's new E-flex drivetrain. The car is driven by motors that get electricity from a lithium-ion battery pack. A gas engine generates electricity for the battery when it needs a charge.
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The Hybrid X was developed in Toyota's European design center as a unique hybrid car, and as such, it seems to indicate the future of the Prius. New plastic body components allowed the designers to create a transparent roof. The A- and C-pillars reach up and over the roof, forming two U shapes.
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With the FT-HS, Toyota set out to design a midpriced, ecologically sound, high-performance sports car. Toyota calls its design theme "subtractive mass," which involves making the car look as light as it is. The FT-HS uses a 3.5-liter V-6 paired with a hybrid system to drive the rear wheels, giving it about 400 horsepower and a 0-to-60mph time of less than 5 seconds.
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Unlike Mercedes-Benz calling a four-door car a coupe, Acura calls its two-door concept a sedan. The Advanced Sedan Concept was designed with pointed hood and tail, reminiscent of boat designs. Taking the boat theme further, the hood has raised ridges and a dipped crease in the middle. Tinted glass covers the roof, giving passengers a complete sky view, while the wheels, at 22 inches in front and 23 inches in the rear, are ridiculously large.
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In its post-RSX world, Acura explores a new sports-car design for its lineup. Smooth surfaces cut by long lines give the Advanced Sports Car a markedly flowing look, while the bubble canopy would seem at home on an aircraft. Although it shares some attributes with the Acura Advanced Sedan concept, the Advanced Sports Car is much better looking.
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Honda says it wanted to explore a design for a sporty, yet practical car. The Remix is a two-seater with a jet-fighter-like canopy that could fit a four-cylinder engine under the hood. The high rear and hatchback allows for reasonable cargo space.
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This concept tries to fuse environmental friendliness with performance, resulting in a two-seat, aerodynamic sports cars. The car is powered by a four-cylinder engine with Honda's Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system. Its bulbous canopy uses a severely raked glass windshield that stretches into the car's roof.
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Honda's Step Bus concept uses the boxy design pioneered by Scion's xA and the Honda Element. The Step Bus has sliding doors that can still be opened even when the car is parked in tight spaces. Although it has a little front hood area, it's designed as a midengine, rear-wheel-drive car.
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Nagare means flow in Japanese, which is the theme of the Mazda Nagare concept vehicle. The striations on the sides of the car are taken from the way wind creates ridges in sand, or the way that air flows over solid objects.
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Mazda continues its exploration into its flow design style. The Mazda Ryuga's exterior is similar to the Nagare's, with striations that mimic the way sand looks when water flows over it. The Ryuga includes a more realistic interior design than the Nagare's single seats down the center.
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The Hakaze concept is the third in a line from Mazda intended to explore the idea of flow. As such, it uses striated body panels designed to mimic the way sand-swept surfaces look. The Hakaze is based on the CX-7 platform and uses a four-cylinder turbocharged engine.
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The Arnejs combines sporty elements such as a squat stance, 19-inch low-profile tires, and an imposing hexagonal grille, with some elegant styling cues. The lack of a B-pillar and a panoramic glass roof are designed to add to the car's flowing, wavelike deign, although the car's huge compensatory C-pillar will make for significantly reduced visibility if this design is retained in a production model.
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Hyundai's Hellion is a radically designed study for a crossover vehicle. Hyundai's chief designer, Joel Piaskowski, refers to it as "the sibling who's a bit mischievous and always outspoken." The Hellion is well-spec'ed out for a concept. Hyundai indicates it would be powered by a 236-horsepower, 3-liter diesel engine mated to a six-speed automatic, turning all four wheels.
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Hyundai imagines a crossover coupe segment for the QarmaQ, something that doesn't quite exist yet, as all crossovers have at least four doors. The rounded design of the QarmaQ is made possible by GE, which worked with Hyundai on the use of new composite materials. The front is designed for pedestrian safety, with soft areas built to cushion a pedestrian during an impact.
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Kia designed the Kue as a crossover vehicle, but with more sporty intent than practical. The Kue has giant 22-inch wheels, all-wheel drive, and a big 4.6-liter supercharged V-8, producing 400 horsepower.
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From the Nissan press kit, the Bevel seems designed to be a mobile toolbox for retired men. Pictures of woodworking suggest the Bevel could be used as a utility truck to build a cabin. Its shape gives it plenty of cargo space, and it includes a set of cargo latches integrated into the roof.
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Ford teamed up with trailer-maker Airstream to build the concept Airstream. Ford says the Airstream is designed as a crossover vehicle, an SUV on a car platform, although it looks more like a minivan to us. All the doors on the Airstream use different shapes.

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