Cars of the Future

This year’s concept cars from Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes,
Audi and others reveal what’s in store in the auto universe.

Gone are the days when carmakers felt the need for
speed. As a new batch of concept cars proves, when automotive designers are
tasked with meeting strict emissions regulations, it’s all about wild-looking
rides.

Much of the emerging focus is on small electric cars
targeted at short-range city commuters. Audi, BMW, GM and Volkswagon all have
models aimed at urbanites. Because driving in dense traffic makes high speed
maneuvering wishful thinking, zip isn’t the purpose of these cars’ designs.
Instead, the goal is curb appeal. Single driver vehicles, two-seaters with a
passenger sitting behind the driver and designs inspired by Formula One racers
are all on the table.

If electric cars are the future of the short haul,
hybrids, such as the one designed by Jaguar, are destined to become the kings
of the open road. The benefits of these cars are their extended range and
ability to combine electric motors with fuel-sipping turbocharged V6 engines
that emulate the fast-forward thrust of the large V8 engines that were once
synonymous with the American roadster.

The fastest and most luxurious hybrids on the road are
likely to bear European markings. Even though Detroit’s R&D muscle has been
curtailed by financial ailments, Ford’s EVOS fastback, Chevrolet’s hybrid Miray
sports car and Cadillac’s Ciel convertible suggest that Detroit is still
capable of innovative thinking. But even the California upstart Fisker isn’t
shy about acknowledging its debt to Europe. And Chrysler, leaning on its Fiat
relationship, is intending to bring a Maserati Kubang SUV to U.S. shores in the
near future. Detroit’s efforts, and Asia’s as well, pales by comparison to
European carmakers, where designers seem free to rethink the whole idea of
personal automotive transportation.

Herewith, some of the year’s best prototypes that may
just show up in the lane next to you.