Paradigm Shift

Citroen introduces its first “Non-Conformist Mobility Object“. Well, its first in decades. Is this a glimpse into the future?

(c) noolyo

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.

(c) newcar-design

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?

(c) autodato

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.

(c) dailyrevs

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

20 thoughts on “Paradigm Shift”

  1. Aixam and Ligier are mainly bought by people who’ve lost their licence, usually for drink-driving.
    This Ami won’t work, because there’s no space for a weekly shop, nor for even a small dog.

    1. Beat me to it! Yes, while the original intention behind the VSP was to cater for older country folk who had never got a licence, the current market is for those who have been dispossessed of their licences by the courts ( who have the option of imposing a complete ban on driving if the offence warrants it). It’s common to hire a VSP for the duration of the ban.

    2. Re the weekly shop,I suppose the same might be said of the Smart for two and yet I have previously used one with success when shopping.
      It’s amazing what can be packed into such a small car.
      For minimal transport I prefer something like the Toyota i- road which being slender two of these side by side will accommodate four humans almost within a Smarts footprint plus offer a more entertaining drive experience.

  2. It’s certainly an interesting and worthwhile concept, but I wonder if it isn’t just a bit too small to be wholly viable. Vic’s point about the weekly shop would rule it out for many buyers. Still, it least has a properly sealed and cabin, unlike the ridiculous Twizy.

    Regarding the design, I think it’s a slight shame that the DLO isn’t completely symmetrical like the lower body.

  3. The Ami is a good concept, a moving umbrella for two people for inner-city and suburb mobility. Plus it comes in a very clever and beautiful industrial design.
    It is also very logical that it is in the 45 km/h class. A class that is very popular, at least in France. Cheap insurance and tax, also it can already driven by a 17 year old. In the south of France you can see these vehicles very often in cities and villages, driven by people of all ages and wealth. (Of course not in Germany, since you can´t do at least 280 km/h on the highway with it.)
    I don’t think the Ami will be available in an 80 km/h version. 45 km/h is sufficient for the intended purpose and there are no advantages in terms of insurance, tax and other costs. Citroen has already had this experience with the eMehari – a vehicle I would have liked to have, but it was not offered in Germany (not to mention the charging problem, anyway).
    Anyway, the Ami could be the first moving battery for which I could decide to have a power cable laid out to our parking space. (The Twizzy never was, too similar to a scooter and we were driving the real McCoy until last year.)

    And if the promised climate change will come, we can also dream of an open version like the Peugeot Peugette from 1976. 🙂

    1. The e-Méhari is a fantastic design, although many quote there are issues with the Bolloré-sourced platform, mainly the battery not holding charge very well, and the car just having generally awful quality of assembly.

  4. So, Mr Doyle, is this what I must expect . . ?
    My first car was a Heinkel Kabinscooter (“bubble car”); will my last be one of these intriguing devices? An interesting thought upon which to ponder. As for the weekly shop, tell Vic to get it delivered – fetching it yourself is so last-century.

    1. I agree completely about shopping. Why drive when you can get it delivered via an “ on line” booking process, subject to the desired slot being available.

      During the pandemic my car has been in a repair garage on SORN. Have I missed it? Not really to be honest. Any journeys I have needed to make by car have been in my wife’s Ford Fiesta ecosport turbo. Small and a good drive. The Ami is smaller but I enjoy the design concept a lot.

  5. Very interesting article.

    My first thought is whether governments’ and planners’ assumptions about cities are correct; after C19 (and, God forbid, future pandemics), will people still want, or even be able to crush in to cities? If not, are vehicles like the Ami still relevant? In other words, wouldn’t people want a car that can fulfill more roles, rather than fewer?

    Secondly, even if we were just to carry on as before in terms of commuting in to cities, are short-but-wide cars the answer? As has been said elsewhere, traffic congestion isn’t a problem so much of length, but width.

    Incidentally, I note there has been a boom in bicycle sales – I wonder if that was more for exercise, rather than transport reasons and therefore whether enthusiasm will continue in the longer term.

    Thirdly, and no disrespect to Citroën or the vehicle’s designer, but isn’t this just a less capable (and cheaper) smart EQ fortwo?

    1. Charles,

      the Ami One concept car was smaller than the Smart at 2.50m x 1.50m 1.50m (Smart: 2.69m x 1.66m x 1.55m). The production car – which I haven’t seen yet – is supposed to be even more compact at 2.41 m x 1.39m x 1.52m, which should make it rather more nimble than the Smart.

    2. Thanks, Christopher. Having seen the promotional video, I’m quite warming to it – enough to make me investigate further.

      I did wonder about stability, but it weighs half a tone and it will have a low centre of gravity, so it should be fine. I see that Citroën are referring to it as an ‘Object’, rather than a vehicle.

  6. Intriguing article, Eóin, thank you. But… I can’t help but think of the Tartan Prancer (from Vacation movie) when I see the Ami.

    How could the Ami realistically share the road with WhiteVanMan; or survive a tangle with a Range Rover? And would wifey really like the idea of sitting in the suicide-door side, without seriously questioning her husband’s fidelity?

    I also have a deep dislike for anything whose charge time is longer than its run time.

    Sorry, but I don’t see it catching on (but then again that’s also what I said about text messaging when it first appeared).

    1. Yikes! Is there a Toyota Previa hiding under there somewhere? I also spot Land Rover Discovery 3 headlamp units.

    2. Good spot, Daniel, they are LR Discovery headlamps front – and back!
      And Aston Martin door handles too.

    1. Yes – it depends how small one really wants it to be. Perhaps it’s better to go egg-shaped, like this one by Brazilian designer, Ricardo Fedrizzi. Even though it’s 10 years old, I still think it looks good.

      https://inhabitat.com/the-bug-urban-electric-concept-mini-car/

      Swedish company, Unity, appear to have something in store, but their car is a bit larger, being a 3-seater.

  7. In November 2019, Swedish media reported that the company behind the city EV Uniti One had run out of money. The economic problems have since continued, and have deepened as a result of the corona crisis. In April 2020, the company applied for reconstruction.
    Continued engineering work has been moved from southern Sweden to Norwich in the UK. The website uniti.earth claims that deliveries of already ordered vehicles in the “Founders series” will begin “mid-2020”.
    According to a Swedish interview (nyteknik.se) with founder and CEO Lewis Horne, deliveries of Uniti One will take place at the end of 2020, but initially with significant losses.
    At present, there seems to be considerable uncertainty as to whether the company can live up to the slogan on their Facebook page: “Tesla for Megacities”.

  8. I haven’t really looked into it properly since its launch but I have a lot of affection for this new Ami. It strikes me as very Citroen, not just an ersatz of a Peugeot product.

  9. Having been an early adopter of the Smart range and even earlier the Isetta I’m keen for this category to come into reality. My favored format is the Toyota “i road” with its slender profile and dynamic cornering.

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