Friday, September 22, 2023

Audi’s latest concept car is an oversized city EV that shouldn’t be legal in cities

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Audi completed its luxury concept car triptych with the unveiling of the Urbansphere, a massive, fully autonomous people mover that somehow manages to be completely too big for the streets it was designed for.

Audi says the Urbansphere is designed “for use in traffic-dense Chinese megacities, although the concept is also suitable for any other metropolitan center in the world.” And yet the vehicle’s staggering size — a whole two feet longer than the 2022 Cadillac Escalade — practically disqualifies it from driving on any city street, regardless of its country of origin.

Its minivan-esque appearance in the renderings is misleading, based on the numbers provided by Audi. The automaker describes the Urbansphere as “the largest model in the sphere family and of all Audi concept cars to date.”

The dimensions of the vehicle are certainly impressive from a clinical standpoint: 5.51 meters (18 feet) long, 2.01 meters (6.6 feet) wide and 1.78 meters (5.8 feet) high. But the idea that this land yacht is steering itself (of course it’s an autonomous concept) through a pedestrian and cyclist-dense environment is enough to make even the most gray city dweller break out in a cold sweat.

Larger vehicles have been linked to an increase in injuries and deaths in the US, especially in densely populated cities where vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists mingle with cars, trucks and buses. Recent research have shown that cities with more large vehicles experienced more pedestrian fatalities.

It’s hard to know exactly what Audi’s designers and engineers were thinking when they first sketched this idea in view of maximum dimensions. Of course, we must take the company at its word when it says the cavernous interior “acts as a lounge on wheels and a mobile office, serving as a third living area during time spent in traffic.”

Traffic, of course, is a problem that seems to be getting worse thanks to the bloated SUVs and trucks that are clogging the streets in increasing numbers. At its core, traffic is a geometry problem; the vehicles get bigger and bigger, while the roads remain more or less the same size. Congestion becomes inevitable.

While the words “pedestrian” or “cyclist” do not appear in Audi’s announcement of the Urbansphere, the automaker notes that an LED display in the vehicle’s grille could be used for “communication.” Lighting symbols can be used to signal the intention to other road users, such as turning left or right. Illuminated “eyebrows” can be translated as turn signals, and so on.

Of course, this is just a concept and there’s no guarantee Audi will ever commit to taking the Urbansphere – or anything like that – into production. The automaker has plenty of giant SUVs in its lineup, including the upcoming Q9, which is expected to go into production this year.

Urbansphere is Audi’s third in a series of three concept cars that, according to the German automaker, would “reinvent mobility as we know it”. The first was the Skysphere, a sleek, villainous-looking electric convertible with an adjustable chassis. Then came the Grandsphere, a spacious electric sedan with an interior that looks like it was designed by a Kardashian.

Audi uses the term “sphere,” a three-dimensional representation of a ring, to describe each of these concepts, but somehow he thought it only needed three concepts instead of four, like the four rings that make up the logo of the car manufacturer.

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