Inviting designers into the engine compartment? Purists might argue that’s downright frivolous, like hiring an interior decorator to fix up a mechanic’s garage. Yet anyone who has ever admired a gleaming set of custom rocker-arm covers or gawked at a tricked-out hot-rod understands that the real estate underneath the hood can sometimes be beautiful, and offers a new design frontier for mass-market cars and trucks. Automakers are starting to realize this, too, as they strive to give their ...

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