Citroën's new EV concept vehicle, Oli, is an extremely forward-thinking design that looks to redesign the family car in a responsible, sustainable way. When the company looks at modern family vehicles, or those of the past, they see bloat; Oli was designed as a counterpoint.
"Citroën believes the time is right to say 'enough' to the trend for excess and expense and to focus instead on creating pure, honest vehicles that are lighter, less complicated and truly affordable, as well as inventive and joyful," the company writes. "With Oli, Citroën is showing how it will raise the stakes for future family mobility by re-thinking every detail to reduce resources and materials without compromising on quality or versatility."
"Oli signals an exciting leap forwards. Rather than being a 2,500kg 'palace on wheels' filled with screens and gadgets, Oli proves that more can be achieved with less, and showcases how inventive use of responsible materials and a sustainable production process can lead to inexpensive yet desirable zero-emission vehicles that meet multiple lifestyles."
"A typical mid-70s family car weighed around 800kg and was 3.7 m long and 1.6m wide. Today's equivalents have grown to more than 1200kg, at least 4.3 m long and 1.8m wide. Some even weigh more than 2500kg. Legal and safety requirements have driven some of this, but if the trend continues and we carry on parking these vehicles 95% of each day and driving 80% of journeys with a single occupant, the conflict between the need to protect our planet and the future promise of sustainable, electrified mobility will not easily be resolved."
Despite being eye-catching, the vehicle's design has a sense of purpose we're not used to seeing in concept cars, which often seem intended purely to dazzle. As Citroën's Head of Design, Pierre Leclercq, explains:
"There's a purity that Citroën has always been about that other brands don't have, and it is much more challenging to design an object that is pure but unique than it is to create something overcomplicated and make it unique."
"All of the key design elements on Oli are perfectly horizontal or vertical, which is something we want to explore. The usual approach would be to go for dynamic lines and other vehicle makers wouldn't dare to do what we have done – but we are looking for honesty and efficiency in the form language."
The windscreen is vertical because it's the shortest distance between top and bottom and uses the smallest amount of glass. As well as reducing weight and complexity, the smaller screen is less expensive to produce or replace.
To aid aerodynamic efficiency, Oli features an experimental "Aero Duct" system between the front section of the bonnet and the flat top panel which blows air towards the screen, creating a curtain effect to smooth airflow over the roof.
Oli's flat bonnet, roof and rear 'pick-up bed' panels, as well as driving the vehicle's unique silhouette, were chosen to meet the objectives for low weight, high strength and maximum durability.
Made from recycled corrugated cardboard formed into a honeycomb sandwich structure between fibreglass reinforcing panels, they have been co-created with partner BASF. They are coated in Elastoflex® Polyurethane resin covered in a protective layer of tough, textured Elastocoat®, which is often used on parking decks or loading ramps, and painted with innovative, waterborne BASF R-M Agilis® paint.
The panels are very rigid, light and strong – so strong that an adult can stand on them – and weight is reduced by 50 per cent when compared to an equivalent steel roof construction.
Load carrying versatility is not compromised either, as roof rails each side of the roof panel allow owners to attach accessories like bicycle racks and roof boxes for family vacations, while below the bonnet panel are neatly detailed storage areas including compartments for charging cables plus personal and emergency items.
Reducing complexity and simplifying construction saves 20% in weight per door compared to a typical family hatchback. Half the number of components is required, and around 1.7kg per door is saved by the removal of the loudspeaker, soundproofing material and electrical wiring.
The external door panel is simpler to stamp and is designed to maximise interior storage. Gentle curvatures flow up the sides of the vehicle, and into the top of the side glass as it tumbles home to the roof.
Large, horizontal windows are tilted slightly towards the ground to help to reduce the effects of the sun, and manual, easy-to-operate "flip up" pantograph opening sections, similar to those used on Ami, provide fresh air ventilation.
The narrower rear doors are hinged at the rear of the vehicle and use vertical glass to give rear passengers more light and visibility. The change in form between the front and rear doors also gave an opportunity to add a passive air intake providing ventilation for rear seat passengers.
Access to the spacious cabin is wide, uncluttered and unhindered with both side doors open – ideal for when the driver needs to get straggling family members loaded efficiently.
Front and rear lighting modules are, again, uncomplicated but highly distinctive, and also play with the contrast between two horizontal lines and one vertical section. This approach will be evolved further as a distinctive Citroën lighting signature in future production vehicles.
Instead of a conventional boot, oli features an unexpected, inspired exercise in useful product design, and comes with a pick-up bed inside the boot for added practicality. The independent rear seat headrests pop up into the roof, the rear screen glass opens upwards, with the flat 994mm wide removable load bed expanding in length from 679mm to 1050mm.
The tailgate folds down and with the load bed panel removed there is up to 582 mm height between the vehicle floor and the rear glass. With the panel in place, 330 mm height of useful and secure trunk space is available below. The removable bed panel is light and flat, and made from the same recycled cardboard structure as the bonnet and roof panels.
Thoughtful rails each side of the bed allow users to attach hooks or accessories, and additional storage boxes are located on the sidewalls to provide secure undercover stowage.
The seats are simply constructed and use 80% less parts than a traditional seat. They are made of recycled materials and clever 'mesh' backrest designs enhance the natural light inside the vehicle.
Laurence Hansen, Head of Citroën Product Development, sums up the goal of the concept:
"Ultimately, it's a lifestyle choice more than a vehicle choice. You can choose to pay for all the latest features and artificial intelligence which you only use 2% of the time when driving, or you can ask yourself 'what is the responsible thing to do and how much of this do I really need?' Oli is a way to say enough, that 'I do want something innovative, but I want it straightforward, affordable, responsible and long lasting'. Oli is all of that."
Join over 240,000 designers who stay up-to-date with the Core77 newsletter.
Test it out; it only takes a single click to unsubscribe