By John Fadler and Keelan Tollefson

Pushed by the dwindling prospects for fossil fuels, the auto industry is undergoing changes not seen since the days of Henry Ford. Today’s innovators aren’t just looking to gear up production, they’re trying to dial back energy use, and that’s produced a bumper crop of wild and wacky (and some not so wacky) concept cars.

Here are eight of our favorites:

Air Car

It would cost less to manufacture (and buy), less to maintain, less to fuel and there would be no emissions. The makers of this car, Air Car Factories, are either on drugs or they’ve seized the Holy Grail. Their car would run on compressed air collected by see-saw devices on the road. Each car would be refueled through regenerative driving. The Barcelona-based company expects to begin with electric models, until testing is completed on the Air Car. A green dream? We hope it’s a reality.

Nike ONE

That’s right. This is a car designed by a shoe maker. It doesn’t much look like a shoe. More like…nothing you’ve seen before. The car is intended to be “athletic.” No joke. “An athlete training to drive the Nike ONE uses a physical resistance simulator, that mimics the vehicle’s controls, along with the digital simulation within GT4 to train their muscles and mind for specific tracks and competition scenarios,” explains Phil Frank, lead designer, who said his team was inspired by the principals of Nike founder Bill Bowerman. The long term plan is that any movement by the driver would be converted into electricity through nanotechnology using a “Spark Suit.” Frank calls it “the ultimate in convergent technologies.” We agree.

Toyota Fine-S/ Fine-N

These aerodynamic hydrogen fuel cell cars would employ motors in the wheels, thereby opening up space in the cabin for passengers. The designs have been out for a while. No word on when such a car could be in production.

Honda Puyo

Honda has already hit the road with a hydrogen vehicle, the FCX Clarity, a few select models of which are being test driven by celebs in California. The concept Puyo, though, still seems from another planet. This hydrogen fuel cell car actually glows in the dark, not due to any radioactive fuel on board, but because the body is luminescent to enhance maneuverability. But that’s just where the fun begins. The whole Puyo concept is to produce a cuddly car. “‘PUYO’ is a Japanese onomatopoeia that expresses the sensation of touching the vehicle’s soft body. It is meant to convey a warm, friendly impression,” Honda reports. Looks cool too.

Chevy Volt

This much discussed plug-in is expected to be available by the end of 2010. GM promises that its lithium-ion battery will allow it to run around 40 miles on a single charge – without using any gasoline. Past 40 miles, the engine will be able to use gasoline or ethanol working along with the battery. Unlike some of the cars on this list, the Volt appears very close to production, and no wonder, GM has assigned more than 200 engineers and 50 designers to the project.

Nissan Pivo2

The electric Pivo 2 is not just a car, it’s an “intelligent life form design,” which means…we’re not sure what. But there is a “Robotic Agent” on the dashboard, a sort of alien friend who talks to you. The car is intended to be more like a living creature and less driven by mechanical design. One problem, though, while this three-seater can twirl 360-degrees, it’s not easy to envision a successful double date in this mini-car, unless one in the party is content atop the cabin.

Saab BioPower100

This turbo-charged sedan would use 100 percent biofuel in a production 2.0 liter engine, which with modifications, could produce a surprising 300 hp. The car debuted at the Geneva show in 2007. The concept explores maximizing power within an environmentally responsible vehicle.

Toyota RiN

This literally green car remains shrouded in mystery as to how it’s green, that is, how it will be powered. Toyota has much to say, however, about how the car will work to improve passengers’ awareness of their natural surroundings, improve their posture and overall health. The car’s “meter cluster” would change colors depending on your mood, which would presumably be more “serene” in this car. And…it’s cool looking.

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