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Top 5 concept cars from the Detroit auto show

Wheels writer John LeBlanc picks the Top 5 concept vehicles from the 2009 Detroit auto show.

DETROIT – If you go by this year’s dominant Detroit auto show theme – electric, electric, and more electric, it may appear like we’ll all be driving plug-in toasters in the not too distant future.

In Photos: LeBlanc’s Top 5 Concepts

Whatever is under these concepts’ hoods, though, didn’t stop the automakers’ car designers from letting loose with their computer designing program on the exteriors.

After a couple of days trolling the show floor, here are my Top 5 favourite concepts for 2009:

5. Volvo S60

The automaker said: “The concept car’s exterior gives a clear indication of what customers can expect of the all-new S60. On the inside we’ve been even more daring – there the focus has been on creating a vision of the future in the slightly longer perspective,” says Steve Mattin, Volvo Cars design director.

We say: The S60 breaks the chiseled iPod-like look that started with the 1999 S80. Viewed from the side, the S60’s slim coupe roofline and window graphics are married to a new lateral shoulder line, forming a gentle double wave.

The Viking longboats in the headlamps are really cool, as well.

Chances of production: Without the parallelogram doors and Space 1999 interior, this is essentially the 2011 S60 sedan. That is if Ford can find a buyer for its struggling Swedish brand…

In the meantime try: If you want Volvo’s new look, but with the utility of a hatch, the 2010 XC60 goes on sale later this spring

4. Audi Sportback

The automaker said: “The Sportback signals Audi’s determination not to limit Sportback versions to the compact A3. As previously indicated by the Audi A1 Sportback concept – the star of the 2008 Paris Motor Show – the brand with the four rings is going to dramatically expand the number of Sportback models on the market.”

We say: This is a daring move for Audi. Some critics have likened the Sportback’s rear to BMW’s controversial X6 Sports Activity Coupe (that’s not a coupe.) But, to me, the tail of the show car looks more related to the gorgeous A5 coupé.

Either way, it’s a progressive, clean-cut evolution of Audi’s design language that’s been around now since the current A6. Bravo to Audi head designer Walter Da Silva!

Chances of production: Audi has all but confirmed that a production model called A5 Sportback will go on sale in 2010.

>In the meantime try: Luxury five-door hatches are as rare as bikinis in Detroit during the auto show. But an A4 Avant may suffice.

3. Fisker S Sunset

The automaker said: “Our objective is to create a singular design language and heritage around our state-of-the-art Q-DRIVE powertrain,” said Fisker Automotive’s CEO Henrik Fisker. “The Karma S is an extension of the Fisker Automotive product range of eco-conscious automobiles and sets the tone for our future.”

We say: With hints of Italian exotica (I’m thinking Maserati) the convertible version is stunning to look at in a classical sense. Lopping off the Karma four-door’s top does wonders for the sedan’s somewhat bottom-heavy looks.

To a certain degree, though, the Sunset is a bit of a no-brainer. And it’s not really a concept. If company owner Henrik Fisker can find enough rich, environmentally conscious folks to pony up, he’ll produce as many as he likes.

Chances of production: Fisker has to start making and selling its nearly $90k Karma sedan to become a legitimate automaker first. And, as we’ve seen with fellow California low volume battery-electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla, that’s easier said than done.

In the meantime try: Jaguar XK or Maserati Gran Turismo and to hell with the planet!

2. Lincoln C

The automaker said: “Modern luxury buyers who live and work in large, urban areas want to play their part in helping the environment by moving to a smaller vehicle, but they still want to enjoy the luxuries of life,” said Peter Horbury, executive director of design, the Americas. “The Lincoln C offers sensible indulgence.”

We say: The C’s designer, Freeman Thomas – he who designed the original Audi TT, Chrysler 300C – has been given a crack at making a car that could knock down the average age of the typical Lincoln customer by a millennium or three.

With its new Lincoln front end married to a very – how you say, Renault?– back end, the C could become the sales winner the large MKT crossover (also unveiled here) has no hope in ever being.

Chances of production: Definitely not with the suicide doors or the show car roof and interior. But if Ford wants its domestic luxury brand to go global, it needs to be relevant in the premium compact market – and fast!

With a 1.6-litre EcoBoost four under the C’s hood, I could see a production version in showrooms by 2012.

In the meantime try: Audi A3 Sportback, Infiniti EX35, Mini Cooper Clubman or Volvo V50

1. Cadillac Converj

The automaker said: Bob Lutz, GM’s vice-chair of global product development, said the Converj “clearly shows what a Cadillac electric vehicle could look like, and clearly indicates that global luxury customers can have a car that has both strong design and electric propulsion with a total range of hundreds of anxiety-free miles.”

We say: In hindsight, imagine if the General had rolled out this shocker in 2006 instead of the suddenly archaic looking Camaro? Regardless, the Converj is not only the surprise of this year’s Detroit auto show, it’s also the first cool-looking green car for the masses, unlike the conservative looking Lexus HS 50h, also unveiled here .

Chances of production: Realistically, GM has to get the car the Converj is based on, the Chevy Volt, in showrooms by late 2010 first. If given the go ahead – which we think it should – a Converj may hit showrooms by 2012.

In the meantime try: Of course, like the S Sunset, the Converj doesn’t have any real competitors. But a BMW 128 Coupe, Mini Cooper, Volvo C30 may satiate your compact coupe jones.

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