Belying the gloomy global economy, the auto industry is in the midst of a magical era for design, says McLaren Automotive Design Director Frank Stephenson. “It’s absolutely the new golden age,” he says. “It’s like the 21st century came up and hit us in the face with supercars.” Beginning, arguably, in mid-decade with the limited-run Ford GT, the industry has seen a steady parade of cutting-edge designs, from the Saleen S7 to the Bugatti Veyron, which costs upwards of $1.7 million. But ...

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