Leading article: Pimp My Eco-Ride

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For members of the public who have looked down at the ecological movement as a style-free zone, the cross-Australia solar car race that started yesterday from Darwin offers an inspirational look into the future. Until recently solar cars, notwithstanding their steady rise in sales, have not been the thing for auto fashionistas. The very purity of the notion inspiring them - driving while cleaning up the planet - has lent them a slightly pious, worthy quality.

Where they have fallen down most is in the design department. Even the queen of hybrid gas/ electric cars, the Toyota Prius, which delivers an astonishing 60 miles per gallon, in the opinion of unkind critics is deficient in the raw sex appeal of the big classic cars. Indeed, some of the new planet-friendly cars are in sore need of the kind of makeover that the men from MTV's cult programme Pimp My Ride specialise in.

But a glance at the cars taking part in the Australian rally shows that virtue need not always be dull. They may not be as über-cool as a Porsche 911, but no one could say that the French entry pictured in today's Independent, with its solar-panelled wings and space-age bubble for the driver, is boring.

At a time when the soaring price of petrol is planting fear into the hearts of all but the wealthiest boy racers, and when the hurricane season has made even the Americans realise they have to stop buying gas-guzzling monsters, the new fashionability of hybrid cars could not be better timed. As the green movement goes mainstream, it is a good thing that automobile design is finally catching up with it.

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