Take heart, materialists. You can take it with you.

That's the message emanating from concept vehicles entered in the 2006 Greater Los Angeles Auto Show's California Design Challenge. From a rolling cafe to a fully furnished condo on wheels, designers representing 10 manufacturers have crafted automotive interpretations of “An L.A. Adventure” -- the theme of the L.A. show's second annual concept competition.

Concept vehicles are integral to the L.A. show which last year declared its ongoing focus will be design as it seeks to carve a niche for itself on the U.S. exhibition circuit.

When the show opens next week, it also will mark the last time it will occupy a January time slot. Starting in 2006, the L.A. auto show will move to November to avoid competition with the larger, more established North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which also is held annually in January.

The objective of the California Design Challenge is to encourage “free thinking,” says Chuck Pelly, Design Academy partner and director of Design Los Angeles, a conference staged in conjunction with the L.A. auto show.

Maybach California Gourmet Tourer


Honda Running Bus


Honda Jacarzzi


GMC PAD

“Design Studios benefit from these types of assignments as they stretch the imaginations of their staffs, which may ultimately influence the way they approach future projects,” Pelly says.

If this is true, expect DaimlerChrysler AG's Maybach brand to spice up its lineup. The Maybach California Gourmet Tourer is described as “the ultimate machine to enjoy a culinary adventure.”

Chauffered by software using GPS guidance, the concept features a mini kitchen, equipped with a refrigerator, microwave oven, wine rack and espresso maker. Foldout tables turn passengers into patrons, who can enjoy scenic California through panoramic windows.

To work off any excess calories, there is The Running Bus from Honda Research of America. It features 10 running stations that generate electricity to power the vehicle's hybrid engine.

And what better place to wind down from a jog than a hot tub? So Honda also offers the “Jacarzzi.”

General Motors Corp.'s advanced design studio turns up the competitive heat all the way with the GMC PAD. Described as an “urban loft,” the PAD uses a diesel-electric powertrain while in DriveMode.

The hybrid powertrain also acts as a generator for an onboard grid that is supplemented by juice from large photovoltaic cells on the vehicle's roof. This system supports the PAD when it is in LifeMode, which features all the comforts of home, from a Thermador-equipped kitchen, to Direct TV, XM Satellite radio and Wi-Fi capability.

And, of course, there is the Kohler-outfitted spa for romantic evenings along the Pacific Coast Highway, Sonoma County wine country or Yosemite National Park.

“It's a home ownership concept that enables cultural and geographic freedom for the modern city dweller,” GM says. “It's a concept that represents a reasoned solution to the problems of urban sprawl, development and its damaging effects on the region's environment.”

Other entries in the competition are:

  • Audi Nero, a super coupe with lines that harken back to the 1930s.
  • Hyundai Greenspeed Gator, inspired by top-fuel dragsters.
  • Kia Sidewinder, a natural-gas-powered 2-seater designed for drifting.
  • Mercedes-Benz Mojave Runner, featuring night vision and sandstorm radar.
  • Mitsubishi Roadster Konzept (MRK), a hybrid compact powered by an 80-hp rear-mounted engine and four in-wheel motors for a total output of 360 hp.
  • Scion Exile, a cab-forward design with a cargo pod that doubles as a portable storage locker for sports equipment.
  • Smart Rescue Vehicle, a mid-engine off-roader with amphibious capability.

Industry experts suggest the range of interests represented in these entries reflects the current consumer climate, particularly California's.

“The overall trend in today's market is that of trying to find individual identities,” says Joel Piaskowski, Hyundai Motor America's chief designer and a participant, with Pelly, in the L.A. show's design conference. “Because there is such a broad market base here, you really have to stand out from the rest of the crowd to have your own look, your own reason for being in the marketplace.”

emayne@primediabusiness.com