LA Auto Show: Cadillac's Winning Super-Light, High-Mileage Concept Car

Last Updated Nov 29, 2010 1:44 PM EST

Brand images in the auto industry are hard to change, but Cadillac (GM) has been successfully chipping away for years at its "old-guy" image. Cadillac's latest milestone in this effort is a surprise win in a design contest at the recent Los Angeles Auto Show for a super-lightweight, alternative-fuel car.

The Cadillac Aera concept car (right) was a co-winner alongside the Smart brand from Mercedes-Benz (DDAIF.PK). The two brands tied for first place in the contest, to design a 1,000-pound car, with very different-looking approaches.

Brand image-wise, the tiny Smart car is a just about the opposite end of the spectrum from Cadillac. Until recently, Cadillac was largely associated in the public's mind with the hulking Cadillac Escalade SUV.

The co-winning Smart 454 design (left) is based on a frame that's "knitted" out of strong but light carbon-fiber material. Playfully, Smart called the machines to be used to knit the material "Smart Granny Robots." The Smart design concept is battery powered.

The Cadillac Aera concept is so futuristic, it doesn't even run on electricity, let alone an internal combustion engine. Instead, the Cadillac runs on compressed air, of all things. It has a 10,000-psi compressed air tank, which gives what Cadillac claims is a 1,000-mile range before "refueling."

Both cars exist only as a design study. They're not something you could drive today or even sit in. But that's OK in terms of the Los Angeles Auto Show Design Challenge. The contest, which was judged by a panel of designers, is aimed at getting car companies to think outside the box.

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Photos: GM, Daimler