Concept vehicles are a staple of the auto show circuit. And while most will never end up as a production vehicle, they can provide insight into an automaker and clues to where it’s headed.
Over at Audi, designers and engineers might have had a distant planet in mind. Or at least an expanse of wilderness.
The German automaker unveiled Tuesday at the Frankfurt Motor Show the Audi AI: TRAIL Quattro, a concept electric vehicle designed for the “future of off-roading.” The “Trail” off roader is one of four concept vehicles that Audi has presented at various auto shows since 2017. Other concepts included a sports car, luxury vehicle and one designed for megacities.
Audi argues that these concepts aren’t efforts of futility. Instead, the company says these four vehicles show how Audi vehicles in the future will be designed for specific use cases.
“In the future, customers will be able to order any of these specialist Audi models from an Audi on-demand vehicle pool to suit their personal preferences and requirements and to lease them for a limited period,” the company said in its announcement.
Audi takes this idea of the on-demand subscription further by noting that vehicles will be configured to suit individual preferences of customers who use this still non-existent and totally conceptual on-demand product. All the essential customer information would be stored in the myAudi system and accompanying app, the company said.
In the video below, Audi’s head of design Marc Lichte explains the thinking behind these concepts.
In the case of the Audi AI: TRAIL, designers put an emphasis on exploration and seeing the surrounding environment. It even comes with five drones, which aside from replacing the headlights, can provide other tasks such as lighting up your camping area or picnic spot.
The all-electric concept, which has a range of up to 310 miles, is about 13.5 feet long and 7 feet wide and is outfitted with beefy 22-inch wheels. And because it’s a vehicle meant to off-road, designers gave it ground clearance of 13.4 inches. This concept, if it really existed beyond the showroom floor, can ford water more than half a meter deep. The range of the vehicle does drop on rough roads to about 155 miles, which would theoretically (if this vehicle actually existed) make wilderness travel more difficult.
The battery unit is integrated into the floor providing a spacious interior that sits four people. Glass surrounds the cabin to provide unrivaled views of the environment, whether it’s an earthly vista or the binary sunset over the fictional Tatooine desert.
The remaining exterior body is made of a mixture of high-tech steel, aluminum and carbon fiber, giving it a total weight of 3,858 pounds.
The concept vehicle is equipped with four electric motors, systems for assisted and automated driving and all-wheel drive. What you won’t find are any screens for streaming video. This concept was designed for viewing the outside world.
The interior, which uses recycled materials, is scant. There are pedals, a yoke for a steering wheel, a few buttons and a smartphone attached to the steering column as a display and control center for vehicle functions and navigation.
The second row features seats that are designed to function like hammocks — and can be removed and used as mobile outdoor chairs.
Drones as headlights!
Perhaps the most interesting feature is the inclusion of five rotorless electrically operated drones, which serve a variety of purposes. The drones, which have matrix LED lighting, can dock on the roof to get more power with the inductive charging elements.
Audi calls these drones Audi Light Pathfinders because of their ability to fly and illuminate the path ahead. These drones, Audi says, replace headlights altogether. When the vehicle is parked, the drones can be used to light up the surrounding area.
Occupants control the drones through their smartphones in this theoretical use case. The on-board cameras can generate a video image that can be transmitted to the display in front of the driver via Wi-Fi, turning the Pathfinders into “eyes in the sky,” Audi says.