The Temptation of Vroom

Until the peak oil crisis comes, goes the thinking of Pasadena automotive design students, how does one make a living designing cars of the future that consumers may not yet be ready to buy?

Published: 14-Jun-2005

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Pasadena -- Environmentalists and politicians have long debated how to reduce the country's dangerous dependence on imported oil, with little to show for their efforts. But if there is one place that might have a good shot at ending America's love affair with gas-guzzlers, it should be here, in the leafy, hip confines of the Art Center College of Design.

Little known outside the auto industry, the school has long been the premier training ground for the elite auto designers of Detroit, Europe and Japan. Its graduates have helped produce the Volkswagen New Beetle, Chrysler's PT Cruiser, the Honda Element and BMW's Mini Cooper, and many have had a hand in designing the tanklike sport utility vehicles crowding suburban streets.

But now the school is initiating major changes -- or at least, it is trying. Its president, Richard Koshalek, has pushed the influential institution to embrace a green-hued philosophy, rethinking its curriculum to reshape the future of transportation. The aim is to produce a new generation of graduates who will ensure that the fuel-cell future will bear little resemblance to the internal-combustion present.

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