Today I’m driving a tiny car which shares more with my iPhone than a traditional motor car. Sure, this Citroën Ami One looks like a small city car—it has a petite cabin that sits upright on four wheels, is guided by four lights, and has seating for two inside as well as regular car mirrors and a steering wheel. Yet conceptually very little of the French marque’s quirky latest concept, designed to mark its centenary, follows conventional automotive codes.
To start with, the Ami One operates with your smartphone, so my iPhone acts as the central interface. I just place the device behind the steering wheel and it provides all the info I need to get around. It also streams my music through the Bluetooth speaker and, best of all, if I change my car to another Ami, then the settings will come with me. This is because Citroën sees the Ami One first and foremost as a shared vehicle for young urbanites, so ease of connectivity is central to its design.
Sadly, I don’t get to test all this as the Ami One here is strictly a prototype so the finish and drive are not quite as polished as a production car. That said, the short run in the confines of this car park is easy, with all the driving functions and elements highly intuitive. The interior is jolly – the bright, playful color scheme promoting a positive atmosphere. Two adults can occupy the space comfortably offering plenty of room in front of the passenger and behind the seats for bags and shopping to include this bespoke luggage collection designed for this car. There are no electric window winders – instead you manually operate these, the slim wing mirrors and canvas roof.
I like that it uses materials from garden furniture and public transport so it can be easily cleaned and maintained—something that is essential for a hire car. Pierre Leclercq, Citroën’s new design director, says he is looking at finding suitable sustainable materials if this car is to get the green light. Similarly, the exterior explores some inspired manufacturing ideas that, as far as I know, are also novel in the auto world. For instance, the doors are made of identical panels to be rear-hinged for the driver and front-hinged for the passenger, reducing the number of parts produced and cutting production costs. Similarly, the front and rear bumpers are the same parts—only positioned differently. What’s more, Citroën’s “double chevron” logo is essentially a flat sticker here. How unfussy and thoroughly modern.
If and when Citroën decides to make the Ami One, there will be an option to own one. In that case, the team encourage young buyers to personalize their little friend, remove the panels and add their own touch as you would with your smartphone cover. Leclercq tells me he would encourage a display of personal artistic freedom.
The Ami One is fully electric and the mechanics are seemingly simple. A battery sits under the occupants’ floor and a small electric motor drives the rear wheels. Electric range, I am told, is somewhere around 100 miles with charging predicted to take a couple of hours. Conveniently, the Ami conforms to quadricycle regulations, which means it requires the same licensing as a scooter, and with a top speed of 28mph, in some countries it can be driven by under seventeens without a driving license.
“Our design approach was to be restrained, and we looked to product design and manufacturing processes for this car,” offers Leclercq from the passenger seat as he guides me around the cones in the car park. As we move, the car begins to hum “Free to Feel”, a mellow track composed by Alex Jaffray and Gilles Facérias for this prototype. With new regulation insisting that silent electric cars ought to have a sound to warn other road users, Leclercq says Citroën is exploring its tune for the electrified future.
Citroën has rightly identified that the next generation are not too thrilled by the conventional motor car, nor do they attach as much relevance to private ownership in the way that perhaps my generation has. Plus, urbanites around the world share a great deal in common in that they see transport increasingly as a multi-model formula.
And there is something refreshing unfussy about this car. It is almost utilitarian – functional in the way that the Swedish furniture giant Ikea has mastered – its products sold to customers from most walks of life from Europe to India and beyond. The Ami One may also look simplistic, but the codes are clever and understood universally. The car I’ve experienced has some refining to do, but the sentiments are there. I am reminded of the Citroën 2CV, a car which similarly broke a few conservative rules and made generations, including me, smile at its eccentric looks and quirky drive.