Audi chose the massive Frankfurt Motor Show to debut its urban concept car. The vehicle has grown out of its Urban Future Initiative programme looking at cities and mobility issues of the future, with involvement from the likes of Jurgen Mayer H and, from the UK, Alison Brooks Architects.
Preceding the motorshow was the latest of Audi’s UFI summits, with a wide-ranging roster of invited guests looking at everything from future fuels (albeit in a rather incomprehensible way) to city evolution, the latter addressed separately by the husband-and-wife team of urban aficionadas (among other things) Richard Sennett and Saskia Sassen.
Innovation and creativity consultant Charles Leadbeater proved one of the most thought-provoking speakers and in one of the accompanying seminars enquired: ‘When will someone come up with the iPhone of cars?’ He was talking about a single solution to mobility, something that motor manufacturers are moving further from with every R&D dollar they spend. The show itself proved this well, as marques moved in wildy differing directions away from their traditional core markets and looked to plug every gap with a model.
It’s not a new phenomenon – witness the unlikely success of Porsche and its Cayenne or the more recent launch of the Aston Martin’s Cygnet (created to help it reach fleet emission standards) looking like a massively overspec’ed Smart car. In fact, even niche-dweller Smart – Daimler Group’s answer to a particular market – has started looking elsewhere, with the launch of its electric ebike, which goes on sale early next year with a hefty price tag expected to be in the region of £2,500.
Confusion or diffusion raged on in Frankfurt, as the Mini went super meaty, Landrover went playful sporty and Citroën launched an ‘executive’ van that looks very much like a large silver piggy bank.
Hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs) of course are still to the fore, in particular the Ampera (good name!) from Opel on sale early next year, an electric Ford Focus due to hit the showrooms in 2013, and the already available Nissan Leaf.
At least EVs and hybrids are moving away from the ‘green = ugly’ model championed by the Toyota Prius. BMW in particular launched two machines, the i3 and i8 Concepts (out in 2013); the latter styled with all the sporting panache BMW can muster, right down to the vertically opening doors – and it’s fast too, 0-62mph in less than five seconds.
These are both interesting and confusing times in the car, sorry – mobility industry. Audi exemplifies this well. The UFI summits are of a high quality, addressing key issues of our time; the concept car Audi launched had little to offer, on the other hand. We’re going to have to wait until at least next year, and probably very much longer, before a bold, one-size-fits-all, iPhone-like answer to mobility makes its debut.