Style California Dreamin'

Ideas for the world's autos now come from design studios clustered around (where else?) trendsetting L.A.

Cliches may be cliches, but they are usually also true. The great nuggets of conventional wisdom about Southern California -- the easy embrace of novelty, an approach to creative endeavors largely unencumbered by tradition, a profound attachment to cars -- are not only apt; they have converged to form an extraordinary new center for automobile design.

Most cars are still dreamed up in Detroit and Turin, Wolfsburg and Tokyo. But virtually all the world's major automobile companies -- 18 to date -- have established design departments within an hour or two of downtown Los Angeles. The Japanese were first. Then came...