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Audi urban concept defies conventional categorization


August 9, 2011

The Audi urban concept car expected to appear at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show

The Audi urban concept car expected to appear at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show

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Until now, Audi's e-tron line of concept vehicles, including the e-tron Frankfurt, e-tron Detroit, and e-tron Spyder, have featured highly desirable, albeit conventional designs reflecting Audi's intention to put the vehicles into production over the next few years. With the latest e-tron branded concept vehicle intended purely as a technical study and not being based on any previous model the Audi designers have been freed up to make a departure from previous designs with the new Audi urban concept.

Audi says the Audi urban concept doesn't fit under any conventional vehicle categories, but combines elements of a racing car, fun car and urban car into one concept. As its name suggests, the urban concept is designed for congested urban environments. With an eye on efficiency the vehicle features a lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) body and is driven by two e-tron electric motors powered by a lithium-ion battery pack to provide what Audi claims is "sporty performance."

The vehicle features free-standing wheels with surrounding protective plates sporting blinking strips of LED lights. Occupants enter via the tailgate with the roof sliding to the rear to open. Inside, the steering wheel and pedals are adjustable to suit the driver's measurements.

The urban concept has room for two people in what Audi says is a 1+1 configuration, but instead of the one seat behind the other layout found in vehicles such as the Volkswagen L1, the urban concept places the seats next to each other but offset so the passenger is positioned slightly behind the driver. This seems a bit odd as it doesn't provide the aerodynamic advantages of inline seating and would make in-car conversations a bit awkward - although it will presumably provide the passenger with some extra leg room.

While Audi has so far only released artist's renderings of the Audi urban concept, the prototype is expected to be unveiled at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show next month.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Cool looking but really not that innovative. How much time/money was wasted on this?

I want a car that drives itself, runs on water and hovers. Is the plastic recyclable?

Why do concept cars still waste space on steering columns and wheels for that matter? In the next few years car should be autonomous and the space currently wasted on steering will be used for rear facing seating!

I mean if it hovers, I don\'t need tyres and therefore will significantly reduce drag and environmental impact.

Not quite sure where the designers are going, reverse??? lol


Well livin_the_dream, I\'ll take a stab at your design concerns. The easiest to answer is your query about the \"waste space\" you call steering wheels. The NHTSA doesn\'t allow any cars on the road that can\'t be controlled in the case of total power failure. That means there must be a mechanical steering linkage, and a mechanical/hydraulic connection to the braking system. The second thing I would say about that space is having rearward facing seats may cause passenger discomfort or disorientation in some applications. Autonomous driving technology isn\'t up to the task of engaging day to day traffic without driver awareness. Until those systems can be proven reliable in emergency situations as well as the mundane, you\'ll be hard pressed to see any company putting them in their luxury cars (they would be in luxury cars first because of the high price such an advanced feature would add). To the writer of the article, that form of semi tandem seating allows the vehicle cabin to be decreased in width by feet. Have you ever noticed the large amount of space separating your legs from the passengers legs? So that profile decrease would actually reduce overall resistance and air displacement, though not as much as inline tandem seating (see the Caparo T1).


Oh well that\'s it, then - the NHTSA says so, so the entire rest of the world has to do as its told...

Clue: Audi - not a US company, and indeed, the rest of world isn\'t (yet) American either.

We do sometimes still make our own decisions without having to run them past the US first...

Keith Reeder

Hilarious. It\'s a two seater electric car Audi. It \'defies conventional categorization\' like my butt \'defies conventional categorization\'. Do Audi actually believe this marketing drivel themselves? I doubt it.

Facebook User

@Keith Reeder

I would be appalled to learn that the other first world countries do not have functionally identical requirements.


Hovering is power intensive and makes velocity changes extremely difficult. you think vehicles wonder around when the wind hits them now, you haven\'t seen anything yet. hover ferries are being discontinued because of how low the wind velocity is that makes them interrupt service, compared conventional high speed ferries.

I like driving.


Occupants enter via the tailgate? Why not just step over the half door? I think the editor was not paying attention to the vehicle.


With the roof sliding to the rear to open why do the occupants enter via the tailgate?


1) Those wheels look like they would have difficulty making turns, much less handling ice build-up on the fenders.

2) Mechanical steering does not, ipso facto, imply steering wheels or pedals. It\'s been shown that a hand lever at the side is just as good or better for steering, and there\'s no reason that cars cant use throttle controls & brakes hand operated.

Automation isn\'t up to all driving needs, but it is not difficult and there are prototypes, of control systems which could easily handle all freeway driving. It\'s not even particularly expensive per vehicle, and can be done without infrastructure changes (though occasional stationary GPS along the route would be of use.)

This has been possible since the 80\'s and would be easier to do today.

By automating the vehicles, and letting them coordinate between themselves you can travel closer together safely (computers react in microseconds and if all of the cars know that something is happening and they need to slow down--within a second--they can all stop safely.)

Such a system can operate alongside manual control vehicles and can be retrofit at moderate cost (depending upon the vehicle.) Freeways are good because they have standardized markings and signage, but with accurate GPS maps any road could be navigated...multiple antennas can bring GPS accuracy down to a cm or less. With an active suspension, each car would know exactly what the road surface is like ahead 99.9999% of the time, thus it could respond fast enough to keep your ride level.

Having such detailed road surface reporting could make freeway maintenance much more efficient.

Current recommended distance between vehicles is 3 seconds, or 264\' at 60mph. Most of that distance is to provide time for the operator to see & understand & decide & then act. Next time you\'re out, see if you can actually keep that distance....

You are 8x as likely to be involved in a fatal accident if you are less than 1 second between the vehicle ahead or behind you.

Cutting that time down could increase the amount of traffic per lane by at least triple, probably much more (since each car will react to the preceding car\'s braking in microseconds.)

The military will have control systems capable of handling most daily situations within a year or two (if they don\'t already.) Emergency situations aren\'t really the stumbling block--people seldom react well to emergencies, and most emergencies are caused by operator errors (in particular, tailgating.)

The biggest hurdle is liability insurance. If you were to come out with cruise control today, you would be unlikely to get permission to install it...indeed, the early models lacked the low-speed cut-off and if set for 60mph would happily try and reach it from a dead stop...disconcerting & dangerous.

Hover vehicles would require massive infrastructure changes, and create problems with flying debris, unlike a ship, a land vehicle can travel in shaped channels--with raised edges to make the vehicle tend to center itself. Cheapest would be to direct air up from the ground, allowing air to pass only when a vehicle is over that particular opening. Removing the powerplant and fan would greatly decrease mass--at the expense of massive infrastructure costs.

For practical purposes, hover vehicles are not currently economically viable yet, though they may be sometime in the future.

The energy cost of hovering exceeds the environmental impact of the tyres.

Charles Barnard

thank you Charles. that was an awesome read.

Facebook User

Nice concept, just wondering what the coefficient of drag number is. Guess we\'ll find out when it is on show d;-?


excellent read Charles in comparison to MrKim at least a bit more \"outside the box\" and imaginative. I\'m an electronics engineer and the one thing that bugs me are people who say \"oh you can\'t do this or you cannot do that\". I\'m aware of the current practical limitations, but I also accutely aware that if enough effort is spent, man can overcome any obstacle eventually. Perhaps the CERN project will yield anti-gravity some day!!!

I hoping that with all the effort currently being channeled toward sustainable power sources (hydrogen from water,etc...) that one day energy will be a lot cheaper and densly stored than it currently is and therefore hovering will be possible. I\'m sure if some bright spark is set to work on windshere they can come up with a fix using gyros, accelerometers, boosters and a fast processor or two, lol...

What is really encouraging is that the automotive companies seem to be finally breaking free from the oil companies. Is it that after 20 years all the non-oil based energy source patents that they bought no longer apply and people can now get on with making life better us all?

Yes they seem fixated with electric at present and yes that limits milage at present but at least that means they are really trying to make vehicle very efficient so creating a portable power source will be easier in the near future!

Keeping it light hearted and positive as always....


@ livin_the_dream \"Yes they seem fixated with electric at present\".

Yes, as soon as I read about the Nissan Leaf I wanted one, but where does the high price come from? With so few components, no heavy complicated IC engine plus exhaust etc. is it just the price of batteries? I went and bought a beautiful VW Sharan with Engine Stop and automatic transmission instead, for under £2,000 more. I Love it! Ian Colley.


Fancy that, a german KIA soul.


@ TexByrnes

I believe a replacement battery bank is about £8000 but thats Retail so it probably costs Nissan £2000...

I\'m guessing that yes the electric motor will be equally expensive but the largest cost will be the NRE development costs that have to be amortised over a realitively low volume platform. Once they improve vehicle range leading to increased volumes then prices will drop.

If you wanted good ecomony the Hydrid Auris supposedly gives 70mpg, as the brakes probably don\'t work and so economy increases, lol ;-)


Glad to see Audi making use of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) in their concept cars. Favored by automakers trying to keep "an eye on efficiency," as Darren Quick put it, the lightweight material can favorably impact fuel consumption by reducing weight without sacrificing safety or performance. It'll be interesting to see how these renderings play out when the prototype is unveiled at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show next month.

How is this concept car any different from the brilliant students at College for Creative Studies (CCS) designs at http://www.facebook.com/plasticcar and www.plastics-car.com

Rob Krebs, Market Innovations, American Chemistry Council

Rob Krebs

"Occupants enter via the tailgate"m considering there is no tailgate, how does that work....

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