The U.S. auto industry is based in Detroit, and auto manufacturing is done in the Midwest and elsewhere. But California, with its endless freeways, is the center of car culture. Mike O'Sullivan reports, it is also a center for advanced auto design, where vehicles of the future are taking shape.
Californians love their cars, as they have since the automobile was introduced more than a century ago.
Today the region is home to more than a dozen design shops where new concepts are explored. The Mazda Miata, Honda CRX, and Toyota Celica were all conceived here.
Some designers are trained at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Its graduates work for more than a dozen companies with advanced design shops in the region.
Auto designer Stewart Reed chairs the Art Center's transportation department.
"It's an extremely vibrant marketplace of both products and ideas," said Mr. Reed. "It's a center of arts and architecture and entertainment and high technology, so it's a great place to have a design school."
Art Center graduate Franz Von Holzhausen heads Mazda's North American design center in the city of Irvine. The company sums up its marketing approach in the motto "zoom zoom."
"'Zoom zoom' is really a personal feeling, and for me, my feeling of 'zoom zoom' is the emotion of motion, and it's really that kind of exuberance you get when you're a little kid of just getting out there and having fun," he said.
He says adults can get the same thrill on the highway. Many Californians want to pull away from the pack with customized vehicles.
Race car driver Steve Saleen markets high performance Ford Mustangs, customized here at his factory.
The shop sells 100 cars a month.
The Ford Mustang remains a popular seller, but down the road at Ford, a team of designers is working on models that may go into production in 10 to 15 years. Ford's John Clinard says designers can see trends in advance in California.
"There's a saying that as you migrate across time zones from east to west in the U.S., each time zone represents about five years of forward thinking," he said. "o we're as far west as you can go. This is it. This is where the forward thinking is centered."
Technology is changing, but whether future cars are powered by gasoline, hydrogen, or other kinds of fuel, consumers will want cars that look good and are fun to drive, says Leslie Kendall of the Peterson Automotive Museum.
"People are in love with their cars," she noted. "People love the mobility that cars afford them, and they're not willing to give that up any time soon."
And wherever the cars are manufactured, many will be designed in California, which Kendall calls the center of car culture.