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Shanghai show: Compact EV on Audi’s agenda

Compact electric crossover in frame as Audi’s AI:ME concept emerges in Shanghai

17 Apr 2019

AUDI has taken to one of the world’s biggest megacities – Shanghai – to present a new autonomous urban mobility concept that not only demonstrates the German prestige car-maker’s work in this area but points to an all-new compact electric vehicle that could materialise early next decade.


Dubbed the AI:ME, the show car is small in size but spacious and, in fitting the brief, futuristic inside, with Level 4 autonomous driving capability and a full-electric powertrain based on a dedicated EV platform that enables clever packaging and accommodation in this so-called 2-plus-X-seater.


The platform is understood to be Volkswagen Group’s MEB modular electric-drive architecture and the concept, while not in the realm of ‘near-production’, is an obvious fit with Audi’s revised strategy announced last month that will now see an expanded number of electric vehicles – about 30 – brought to market by 2025.


The AI:ME could therefore preview a fresh take on the discontinued A2, though more likely an all-new model denoting a compact crossover in keeping with the global automotive market’s ever-increasing appetite for SUVs over traditional passenger cars, including supermini-based MPVs.


A sister concept, of sorts, to the 2017 Alcon design study, the AI:ME measures 4300mm long and 1900mm wide, placing it firmly into the small-car segment, but Audi insists that its 1520mm height and 2770mm wheelbase are more in keeping with the next higher class – something the EV platform, which has a 125kW electric motor positioned on the rear axle, allows without a traditional combustion engine and related components such as a transmission tunnel.


The 65kWh battery is stationed under the floor, and the cabin layout allows for various seating positions and storage spaces, with up to four occupants on-board – one of which must be a driver considering this is at Level 4 autonomy and not fully-hands-free Level 5.


The cabin pulls together a lot of technology applied to various other concepts and demonstration vehicles such as AI-based bio-signal recognition that allows functions to be controlled via eye movement, active noise control applied through the audio system, and in-car entertainment linked with virtual reality glasses that respond to vehicle movements in real time.


The exterior is also relevant in showing Audi’s design direction and certain elements that should flow through to production models, such as surface treatments, lightweight body materials and lighting arrangements.


The latter includes increasing the visibility of the vehicle itself, which is particularly important for other road users when the car is scything autonomously through the megacity with no input from the driver, via intelligent LEDs integrated across the body that illuminate as required.


Audi also emphasises how the overall AI:ME design “differs strongly from the mainstream competition” and stands as a more dynamic alternative – appearing as if it is moving, even at a standstill – rather than appearing as a “cubic van”.


“More than just a hint of a wedge shape, the accentuated and drawn-out wheel wells that are typical for the brand and the striking window graphics create a highly emotional overall shape,” the company said.


The AI:ME is the third ‘vision’ vehicle from Audi that is designed to “present an offer for use in clearly defined areas”.


It follows the Alcon, which was a Level 5 car designed with inner-city travelling top of mind, and the PB18 e-tron that emerged last year and pointed to an R8 supercar successor.


A fourth vehicle that will “complete the concept quartet” is confirmed for the Frankfurt motor show in September.

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