The Ami One: Is Citroen's concept city car the future of urban transport?
Trying to predict the future is a tricky business, and one that’s likely to leave you red-faced. For example, plenty of people said that the internet wouldn’t catch on, that mobile phones would only get smaller and that the Alfa Romeo 4C couldn’t be anything but a brilliant sports car. Look how wrong they all were.
Still, despite the risk that I’ll be proved catastrophically wrong, I’m going to state that I think Citroen might have come up with the future of urban transport. Or at least one solution, anyway.
The Citroen Ami One, a small electric two-seater city car. On the face of it that doesn’t sound all that new or ground-breaking, and when you hear about its 27mph limit and it almost sounds woeful. Then there's its utilitarian back-to-basics approach – overall there's no doubt it'd make a terrible 'normal' car.
But the Ami One's single-minded focus, a car perfectly suited for the city, means it looks like it has a comfortable future rather than the unpredictable one most other four-wheeled vehicles face.
In an ideal world, all city and urban travel would be done on public transport; if you can’t walk it or cycle it, take the bus, train or tram. But there are very good reasons why people do use cars to get around cities. A car is much better for taking your child across town, it’s faster and easier to pack a pram or pushchair into a car than it is to squeeze it onto a bus or carry it down numerous flights of stairs.
Also, how else would you take your dog to the vet, carry them on the back of your bike? I don't think so. And you're perfectly justified in driving your car across the city instead risking it on the late bus or chancing it in a taxi in case your driver gets a bit handsy.
Cars in cities still have their uses and they will continue to be necessary. But cars are currently a nightmare and ruinously expensive to store in cities – even the small ones. The Ami One is designed to be rented, to be a shared car, one that you book with an app on your phone. This is nothing new, but current rental and car-sharing schemes use normal Jack-of-all-trades cars, ones that can drive on motorways and country roads. And although short-term rentals do seem cheap initially, prices become steep very quickly.
The Ami One has been conceived to be properly affordable, nothing like the current costs associated with cars. So cheap that Arnaud Belloni, Citreon’s Senior Vice-President of Global Marketing Communications, says: ‘something like the price of your mobile.’ The aim is for the Ami One to be a genuine competitor to public transport. ‘If the price is disruptive, many people will go back to the car.’
One reason why it needs to be cheap is that it has been designed for young people. Not just those who think they’re young, as Belloni elaborates: ‘It’s for all. Even those with no driving licence. So you can drive this car aged 14 and 16 if you’re in the UK.’
To keep manufacturing costs down both of the Ami One’s doors are identical, that means one opens conventionally, the rear of the door allowing access into the car, the other opens like a suicide door. The front and rear panels, each pair of wheel arches, the front lights are all exactly the same and interchangeable too. There’s also no infotainment or satnav, instead, you place your smartphone onto the dash and a glass plate reflects what’s on the screen so you can use apps on your phone to help you navigate.
The big side door opens to reveal swathes of light grey plastic covering the floor, door pillars and dash. It’s not the sexiest of surfaces, granted, but I do get a little frisson of excitement. Not only because it’s a fresh and clean design, but my inner Kim-from-Kim-and-Aggy-fame rises to the surface. The idea of sharing a conventional car, one with deep carpets, porous fabrics, foam seats that’ll absorb anything, with potentially hundreds of people and their pets, makes me wretch.
The wipe-clean plastics in the Ami One, plus an easy-to-remove rubberised floor mat and a mesh-backed chair – that won’t make your back sweat, and if it does, won’t absorb it – makes for a much more hygienic, and therefore a much more pleasant environment.
The light coloured plastics, open roof and abundance of glass make it a very bright and open place to sit. The sense of space that gives, however, is not just an illusion; two people fit in more than comfortably, there’s storage space behind both occupants and another area ahead of the passenger. Sat inside, it seems remarkable that this car would fit head-on into a street parking space, just like the original Smart, but it can.
One downside to all the glass is that even in the parking lot I'm driving the car, a space that's only occupied by cones and no moving cars to contend with, I feel vulnerable. I am not cocooned within a dark box with metal up to my chin, just as I’m used to in a normal car, and I feel exposed. Even the high seating position isn’t adding to my confidence.
However, I can see how much easier it would be to navigate around small spaces, spot obstacles, dodge pedestrians with this amount of visibility. Give me an hour in central London in the Ami One and I suspect I’d be so used to it that any normal car would feel completely under-equipped for the task of city driving.
There’s one notable exception in the Ami One’s future-car arsenal, and that’s autonomy. Almost every concept car that is launched is said to be ‘fully autonomous’, no matter how unrealistic that might be.
The Ami One doesn’t have an autonomous driving mode, not only would that make it too expensive, but it's mostly because it's not a car for some distant utopian future. It’s for the very near future, as Belloni explains: ‘We are a popular brand. A popular brand has a duty, a popular brand has to propose a car or technology for all. It needs to be affordable and come quickly. The Ami One, we are working to make that happen in the next few years.’