Last week Audi released sketches of a new lightweight all-electric Urban concept it intends to show at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Now, before we've seen the Sportback version in the flesh, it has decided to add an open-air Spyder version of the 1+1-seat technical study. Both cars feature a continuous, pillarless window area and doors that open upwards for ingress/egress in tight urban surroundings.
If the Audi Urban concept seems a little familiar, take a look at the Audi R18 TDI which recently won the Le Mans 24 Hour race. The same pillarless sweeping windscreen is there, but more importantly, the Urban concept's carbon fiber construction mirrors that of the R18.
The extreme lightweight construction of a racecar might seem a bit over-the-top for an urban shopping trolley, but the relevance of the very latest in motorsport design to road cars of the future is inescapable. For the last century, every car to be sold for road use has been much heavier than it really needed to be. With seemingly limitless energy reserves and an environment which seemed capable of absorbing all the gunk we could throw at it, engineers overengineered everything and the resultant obese road cars used many times more energy to propel themselves than they really needed to.
Now we have realized that the environment is being polluted to everyone's detriment by burnt hydrocarbons, and that new cars can be engineered to use a fraction of the energy of their forebears, there's a lot to be learned from automotive competition - less weight means better acceleration, better braking and less energy used.
The carbon fiber construction of the R18 was also demonstrated most conclusively to be very safe during the Le Mans race this year when two of the three works cars had horrific high speed accidents. The car was a new design but it's testimony to Audi's engineering that all the homework had obviously been done. These YoutTube clips of the two accidents (Alan McNish and Mike Rockenfeller) indicate the extreme nature of the impacts, yet both drivers walked away completely unharmed.
Gizmag's Darren Quick, in writing about the first Urban Concept to be shown, pondered the staggered seating arrangement of the vehicle, writing, "this seems a bit odd as it doesn't provide the aerodynamic advantages of inline seating."
After examining the imagery and the seeming similarities between the R18 and the Urban concept, I wonder if some of the technology of the race car has been used in the Urban concept. Audi has used very similar carbon fiber driver protection capsules in its Le Mans cars over recent years, and there's no doubt they protect the driver.
Regardless of where it came from, the Urban Concept is very appealing and we can't wait to see what the two new Audis look like in the flesh.