Shanghai: Audi unveils electric, autonomous AI:ME city car

Could it preview a follow-up to the A2?

Audi traveled to the biennial Shanghai auto show to unveil a concept car named AI:ME. If built, the AI:ME will be positioned as a connected, autonomous-capable city car powered exclusively by electricity.

Short, wide, and tall, the AI:ME is a lot less sporty than recent electric concepts, like the E-Tron GT unveiled at the 2018 Los Angeles show. That's intentional; the idea wasn't to create a performance car with a jaw-dropping top speed. Designers instead placed an emphasis on carving out as much interior space as possible, so they pushed the wheels out to the corners and gave the concept a tall greenhouse.

Audi describes the concept as a two-plus-x seater, meaning its interior can be configured in a number of different ways depending on each user's need. Envisioned as a third living space after the house and the office, it's equipped with front seats inspired by classic lounge chairs, and powerful magnets integrated into the center console so that users can have a meal on-the-go without worrying about spilling food on the cloth-upholstered seats. Walnut trim and wood trim above the passenger compartment add a touch of nature to an otherwise tech-packed cabin.

Users can communicate with the car and its infotainment system via voice commands, eye-tracking technology, or touch-sensitive buttons on the door panels. The infotainment software is displayed on an OLED screen that stretches the entire width of the dashboard, but passengers can put on a pair of virtual reality (VR) goggles to watch movies or play games.

The company predicts a car like the AI:ME would primarily move at anywhere between 12 and 44 mph. Power comes from an electric motor mounted over the back axle and tuned to zap the rear wheels with 170 horsepower. It draws electricity from a 65-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. The concept sounds MEB-based to us, but Audi hasn't revealed precisely what's under the sheet metal. All we know is that its many of its suspension parts come from the company's parts bin.

Level four autonomous driving technology powers the AI:ME on its own in certain areas, like on the highway and in urban centers. The steering wheel and the pedal move out of the driver's way when the car drives itself.

At this point, it's too early to tell whether the Audi AI:ME will receive the proverbial green light for production. Audi is known for performance and luxury, but it has dabbled in the city car segment before. It made the Audi 50 -- which turned into the original Volkswagen Polo -- between 1974 and 1978, and the A2 from 1999 to 2005.

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