LOS ANGELES – At first glance, California’s growing influence on automotive design has all the hallmarks of the grandest hoax ever perpetrated on an industry. The world’s auto makers currently employ hundreds of designers in California who churn out concepts for more than two dozen brands. And under Wall Street’s baleful glare, car companies have invested untold millions in “Left Coast” studios, where sandal-clad designers are guaranteed daily doses of surfside inspiration and a steady ...

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