FRANKFURT -- How do you solve the problems of congested cities, tailpipe emissions and the high price of electric vehicles?
Three German brands offered their solution at the Frankfurt auto show last week, and it's as simple as "one plus one." Or perhaps just "one."
Opel, Audi and Volkswagen each proposed a radical reconfiguration of the automobile with cars that are only wide enough for one passenger per row of seats. In Opel and Audi's concept vehicles, that results in a one-plus-one seating configuration. But VW displayed the bare minimum: a one seater.
Think enclosed motorcycles, perhaps. But enclosed motorcycles that are very futuristic, stylish and sporty.
The vehicles feature electric drive-trains with smaller batteries than the ones needed in full-sized EVs. The smaller batteries and the lightweight frames cut costs.
The vehicles are meant for the megacities of tomorrow, where larger vehicles may be banned, or at least taxed as they are in several European cities today.
Here are the skinny cars:
Audi Urban Concept. Weighing in at a mere 1,058 pounds, the Audi entry draws on the brand's early racing heritage for some style touches, such as the large open wheels set apart from the body. The snubbed-off front and rear ends also are reminiscent of an earlier era.
The two seats are slightly offset, giving the passenger more legroom. The sliding roof allows for open-air operation. The downward flaring lower flanks generate downward force, but also can let the batteries be charged by induction, an experimental form of wireless charging.
The tiny steering wheel might seem too go-kartish for most drivers, and the aluminum dash might not pass muster on safety; on the other hand, the decorative lights in the wheels are pretty cool.