The business of automobile design may seem to be the uncontested territory of traditional car companies, but a closer look reveals a wide range of characters: sportswear manufacturers, electronics behemoths and architects are all venturing into the world of automobile design.

Take the 2001 POD Concept car, a joint product between Sony and Toyota. The anthropomorphized vehicle wags its antennae at you and simulates a smile with its front lights as you approach it. Lights positioned around the vehicle change color to express the driver’s (or the car’s) mood using onboard gauges that monitor areas including the fuel-level meter and the steering wheel: for example, bright red when the driver is angry or blue when the car runs out of gas and is “sad.”

“The POD concept is very interesting,” says Geoff Wardle, chair of transportation design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, “because it heralds the future connection between the car and the driver.” It remains to be seen, though, in what way this concept will be used in the future. “The car is able to determine and express the mood of the driver; however, I have the feeling that—at least here in North America—drivers are not really interested in knowing how other drivers feel.”

General Motors and Nike designers teamed up to develop the Hummer H3T, an off-road vehicle equipped with a camera on the hood to record every beer run—er, teeth-gritted, mud-spattered trip across Bryce Canyon—on DVD. The Hummer H3T features the signature ACG TA tire. The tire shares a tread design with Nike’s similarly named trail/hiking shoes and should handle sand and mud (and, one presumes, supermarket parking lots) with equal aplomb.

Although these two examples have appeared quite recently, unconventional cars have a rich, storied history.

» Engineer and artist Leonardo da Vinci developed the design of a spring-driven wagon as early as 1478.

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