Citroen introduces its first “Non-Conformist Mobility Object“. Well, its first in decades. Is this a glimpse into the future?
Despite being embroiled in perhaps the largest and most complicated merger/acquisition in automotive history, Groupe PSA, under the current leadership of Carlos Tavares, appear to be one of the few European automakers who are taking what at least appear to be the decisions that matter. And as the worst of the current C-19 wave recedes for much of Europe at least, it’s becoming increasingly apparent what those are likely to be.
One can of course argue the toss over the value or logic in PSA merging with Fiat-Chrysler (and yes, we all know the basic rationale), there is little doubt that such a move will in the fullness of time, prove either to have been a masterstroke of suitably epic proportions, or the petard upon which Mr. Tavares will eventually be hoisted. It may very well be both.
As industry grapples with the challenges resulting from the enforced shutdowns of the past couple of months, all previously cherished plans and projections are for the birds -(although the PSA/FCA merger is still on it seems). But while we already realise that nothing will be quite the same again, all we can safely speculate upon for now is that the new reality is likely to be different.
During the crisis phase of the pandemic, for thousands of people under restriction, their car became a refuge; a safe space, a self-contained C-19-free pod to which they could escape – even if they couldn’t necessarily travel far – well at least those who weren’t using theirs to “test their eyesight”. But as we face up to fundamental changes in how we move about and interact in public spaces, it seems that the concept of the private motor car is set to enjoy a renewed significance – at least for the time being.
However, in the pandemic’s wake, the type of cars we drive may change a little more rapidly than either we or the industry might have anticipated, or planned for. What the pandemic has laid bare is that the argument for the template of longer, lower, faster – already under unprecedented attack has been irrevocably lost. But now as European legislators add electrified caveats to any putative auto-related stimulus packages, one thing that can be discerned is that PSA appear to be better placed than most of their rivals to capitalise.
Having invested in what more fervent critics saw as a pointless ‘hedging our bets’ multi-propulsion model, PSA have been able to get several B-segment offerings to market in a timely fashion, with Opel, Peugeot and DS Auto currently able to offer fully electrifed versions of what remain predominantly ICE products. Citroën on the other hand seem a little late to the game, but that would not be an entirely accurate reading of matters.
Because somewhat overshadowed by the pandemic’s grim advent was the announcement this February of Citroën’s Ami – 100% ëlectric (the first and only time I will refer to it by its official name) in production form. Previously seen as a more radical looking concept at 2019’s Geneva show, the Ami is described by its makers as a “disruptive 100% electric mobility experience”. To less PR-focused eyes however, it’s a micro-sized two-seat, urban quadricycle EV. To mine, it’s simply the most interesting vehicle to bear the fabled double chevron in decades.
Despite Citroën’s claims, the Ami is not a new concept. It is, as we all know, a modern take on quite a long-standing one. The so-called bubble cars of the 1950s were borne out of a similar set of imperatives, if somewhat different circumstances. Curiously, France never really went in for this phenomenon, but more latterly, manufacturers like Axiam and Ligier have successfully produced small quadricycles and microcars, which have proven popular not only in urban centres, but also more rural areas.
These vehicles have appealed primarily to those too young to qualify for a car licence, those who cannot afford the running costs of a conventional car, or to the elderly, who simply don’t require the hassle or physical size. It isn’t even the first latterday quadricycle EV offering from a mainstream carmaker. That accolade falls to Renault with their 2011 Twizy, a smaller, narrower, if more stark looking device.
But what of Citroën’s offering? The Ami is 2.41m long, 1.39m wide and 1.52m high, with a turning diameter of (7.20 m). It’s powered by a single electric motor which will propel its occupants to a giddy maximum of 41.8 km/h, with up to 75.5 kilometres of range. Charging is by a 5.5 kWh lithium-ion battery, housed under the floor, replenished via an on-board electric cable, which is claimed to take 3 hours – enough for a full charge on a conventional 220 V socket. It can also be charged at a public terminal or wall box.
Scheduled become available during the summer in its home market, and later in the year in Spain, Italy, Belgium, Portugal and Germany, Citroën is offering the Ami as a long-term rental, through PSA’s Free2Move carsharing scheme, (good luck with that) or as an outright purchase – the latter costing from €6,000 before options or customisation. Right hand drive markets are as yet not scheduled to be part of the Ami experiment, Citroën’s marketing chief Arnaud Belloni suggesting to journalists that there is a necessity to validate the project in France and other mainland European countries first.
During the recent period of curfew, roads everywhere became eerily quiet. Towns and cities experienced an uncanny absence of congestion, noise and pollution, and more to the point, people by and large appreciated the change – if not the cause. With governments (and populaces) showing a keenness to get back to a pre-virus form of living, this looks set to revert, but having had a taste of life without some of the motor car’s less appealing traits, the prospect of the public consenting to quite radical change – change they haven’t previously shown a great deal of enthusiasm for – seems (on paper at least) to be stronger.
It’s been clear for some considerable time that cities and motor vehicles are not a very compatible pairing, and ideally one would perhaps remove the bulk of them entirely. However, this is never as simple (or feasible) as proponents might like to suggest, even notwithstanding the vested interests who would act to prevent such an occurrence taking place. Nevertheless, it now seems more of an inevitability, simply because (a) the imperative has been demonstrated, and (b) because it will undoubtedly prove to be broadly popular with those who live and work in such settings. But if we are to have vehicles entering our cities and towns, surely they need to be better suited to them?
With the virus still very much a fact of life for most people, it’s probably premature to be looking too far ahead, but it certainly isn’t fanciful to speculate about the likely impact on the manner in which people go about their business. As an experiment in homeworking, the recent shutdowns seem to have demonstrated proof of concept in many instances. Already, large swathes of workers have had their car sitting, largely unused, outside their doors for the past couple of months. Certainly, if more people find their work environment, either by choice or by policy increasingly home-orientated, new questions arise over the justification for the type and quantity of cars which are once again beginning to litter our roads and what this could mean for the daily commute – to say nothing of the dreaded school run?
Is there another way? The Ami is the very essence of the prototypical monopod. More carlike than Renault’s Twizy; if the Citroën resembles anything it perhaps reflects some of the thinking behind the 2017 Redspace concept created by Chris Bangle’s design consultancy, to widespread derision and perplexity. Citroën’s chef de style, Pierre Leclercq, seems to echo this thinking, stating, [the] “… design of Ami is a product design, not an automotive design. A design for which the form must define the function. Ami has been designed from the inside towards the outside.”
The Ami’s doors are identical and open in opposing directions – rear-hinged on the driver’s side and front-hinged on the passenger side – a configuration designed to improve access. The two fixed, semi-opening windows meanwhile provide a gentle homage to the fabled 2CV. The glass area, which includes a panel in the roof, is panoramic aiding the impression of space and outward visibility.
Simplicity abounds. The interior is fully sealed and heated, with storage areas in the doors, under the passenger seat (with room for a cabin-sized carry-on suitcase), and at the rear compartment. Sat-nav and media can be accessed via the user’s smartphone, when placed in a dedicated dock in the centre of the dash. Only one exterior colour is available – Ami Blue, but a wide range of customisation decals and graphics can be added.
But we really shouldn’t lose the run of ourselves. For all its charm (and it is charming), the Ami is not anything like a definitive answer to the problems of moving people about in an inexpensive, non-polluting, secure manner. However, given the likely squeamishness surrounding mass-transit for the foreseeable future, it at the very least suggests a plausible starting-point in the direction of at least one form of travel.
Certainly, in its current form the Ami remains somewhat one-dimensional in usability terms by the performance of its electric motor. But given that Renault offers the Twizy with two power outputs – the latter of which develops 17 KW, there is no reason why PSA could not offer a more powerful version in the fullness of time. Certainly, of the two, 80 km/h would feel a good deal less alarming avec Ami.
Meanwhile, for Governments across Europe (at least), balancing the wishes of those who want to see less cars (or less of the type of cars we have become used to) in our towns and cities while maintaining jobs in what is a hugely significant employer and highly important contributor the nation’s balance of payments will be the difficult part.
Other sticking points however remain – in terms of charging points – especially in Europe’s congested city streets and perhaps as importantly, the perception amongst many potential consumers who remain wedded to bigger, taller, more aggressive and profligate. Both aspects need addressing, and in the latter area at least, the carmakers themselves have as much of a duty as an imperative to lead a shift in attitudes. No small matter while they are still hawking ever-more objectionable SUVs and trucks.
Meanwhile however, the opportunity seems there to be taken. PSA are well placed to capture a sector of the market which is really just opening up, but promises to be a significant one. And if Vincent Cobée’s claims of potential profitability are accurate, it’s one that could prove quite lucrative for the carmaker – especially if (as seems plausible post-merger) Fiat and Opel roll out their own versions.
Tavares is widely known within industry circles as being a product man. Certainly, the right product will make the difference between winners and losers of what is likely to be a very complex post-Covid automotive landscape. On current form, PSA’s leadership is making its contemporaries look rather lead-footed.