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

Much of the emerging focus is on small electric carstargeted at short-range city commuters. Audi, BMW, GM and Volkswagon all havemodels aimed at urbanites. Because driving in dense traffic makes high speedmaneuvering wishful thinking, zip isn’t the purpose of these cars’ designs.Instead, the goal is curb appeal. Single driver vehicles, two-seaters with apassenger sitting behind the driver and designs inspired by Formula One racersare 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 kingsof the open road. The benefits of these cars are their extended range andability to combine electric motors with fuel-sipping turbocharged V6 enginesthat emulate the fast-forward thrust of the large V8 engines that were oncesynonymous with the American roadster.

The fastest and most luxurious hybrids on the road arelikely to bear European markings. Even though Detroit’s R&D muscle has beencurtailed by financial ailments, Ford’s EVOS fastback, Chevrolet’s hybrid Miraysports car and Cadillac’s Ciel convertible suggest that Detroit is stillcapable of innovative thinking. But even the California upstart Fisker isn’tshy about acknowledging its debt to Europe. And Chrysler, leaning on its Fiatrelationship, is intending to bring a Maserati Kubang SUV to U.S. shores in thenear future. Detroit’s efforts, and Asia’s as well, pales by comparison toEuropean carmakers, where designers seem free to rethink the whole idea ofpersonal automotive transportation.

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

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