New Audi AI:ME concept invokes spirit of A2 at Shanghai

The new, aerodynamic Audi AI:ME concept is envisioned as on-demand, autonomous city transportation

Audi is using this week’s Shanghai Motor Show to showcase its vision of future urban transport, revealing a new compact city car concept called the Audi AI:ME.

The brand has not outlined what platform the AI:ME is based on, but the wheelbase is 2,770mm long – the same as the recently revealed Q4 e-tron, which is destined for showrooms in 2020. It all but confirms that the AI:ME is another car on the Volkswagen Group’s all-electric MEB platform, as does the drivetrain; it’s powered by an electric motor on the rear axle developing 168bhp.

Shanghai Motor Show 2019

Squint a bit and it looks a little like the Volkswagen ID. or SEAT el-Born, but this concept car doesn’t directly preview an upcoming production model and is not part of Audi’s burgeoning e-tron line-up just yet.

Instead, the AI:ME can be filed alongside a growing family of futuristic Audi show cars known as ‘vision’ concepts. These are highly specialised vehicles, designed to suit certain tasks and previewing what the company could build if the traditional ‘one size fits all’ ownership model is replaced by subscription services. So the AI:ME is an autonomous, shared-on-demand city car.

Eventually, the ‘vision’ family will become a quartet, with the fourth and final vehicle in the futuristic line-up due to be revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. “There is urban, which is this one; there is the race track, which is the PB18; and then there is the AICON, which is transport between cities. There is one more – think suburban,” Audi’s chief of exterior design, Andreas Mindt, told Auto Express ahead of the AI:ME’s unveiling in Shanghai.

The AI:ME’s proportions are typical of other MEB hatchbacks, measuring 4,300mm long, 1,900mm wide and 1,520mm tall. Each wheel has been pushed into the corner of the car to maximise interior space, while the noticeably high belt line is designed to increase shoulder room. The profile – and in particular the rear end – is unintentionally reminiscent of the company’s iconic A2, an observation not lost on designer Mindt.

“The shape makes a lot of sense,” he told us. “It’s very aerodynamic and lends to the space inside. It’s the best shape you can have for a compact car.”

Audi describes the AI:ME as a “2 plus-x-seater”. Open the rear-hinged back doors and you’ll see the cabin features configurable seating, storage and surfaces, but the concept is presented as a four-seater.

Although it’s a small car, it still has a focus on luxury. The cabin uses a mixture of wood, textiles and mineral composites, such as Corian, and is bright and airy, thanks to the full-length glass roof and large windows. It even has real plants inside; Audi claims this is relaxing and contrasts with the AI:ME’s natural urban environment. It’s quiet, too, thanks to active noise cancellation.

Many of the features Audi has included inside the concept are designed to make sense in the context of the AI:ME’s Level 4 autonomous capabilities – which mean it can fully drive itself in certain conditions.

So the steering wheel can fully retract into the dashboard to leave the driver with a small open-pore wooden table. Magnetised areas hold metal plates and cups, so those riding in the AI:ME can enjoy a meal, maybe while watching a film on the vast display at the very end of the dashboard, or through a set of linked virtual reality goggles.

Audi imagines that the AI:ME will be hailed through a smartphone app, with customers able to pre-set several configurations, such as the layout of the seats, the interior temperature, and even the colour of the car, should they desire.

Would you like to see the return of the Audi A2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below...

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