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Hints of future shift attention from new auto designs

Detroit - Higher door lines and more glass in the roof.

Sleek, low hood lines with big chrome grilles. Functional interiors, including house-like lighting and a van with seats on two sides of a table.

That's what the cars and trucks you'll be driving soon will look like, as seen at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

But it's the future that may be the most intriguing, with General Motors Corp.'s plug-in, rechargeable electric-powered Chevrolet Volt hogging a lot of attention during the show's media preview days this week.

Mike Jackson, chief executive of AutoNation, the country's largest auto dealership group, was amazed at the Volt, saying that current hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles are merely a fuel-efficiency bridge between now and a practical electric car embraced by everyone.

The Volt overcomes range, noise and power issues that plagued previous electric cars, Jackson said. It has a 40-mile range on batteries and a small gasoline engine that generates electricity to power the car and recharge the batteries when they're depleted.

If GM or another automaker is successful in overcoming battery technology hurdles, something like the low-slung four or five-passenger Volt could show up in driveways across the globe.

Between now and then, buyers will be treated to many more models that look, feel and perform better than their predecessors. In the popular mid-sized segment, Honda Motor Co. rolled out the 2008 Accord Coupe, which will look like its sister sedan, both due in showrooms this fall.

They'll fight it out against Chevrolet's new Malibu, a car that many analysts say will finally give GM a model to take on Toyota Motor Corp.'s Camry, the best-selling car in the U.S.

In the Accord and Malibu, designers have raised the top of the doors, or the "beltline," in automotive jargon, reducing the window size.

They did the same thing on the redesigned Ford Focus small car.

"It gives the vehicle, I think, a very substantial look," said Ed Welburn, GM's vice president of global design.

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