When it comes to visionary thinking, perhaps the most jaw-dropping concept from one of Volkswagen Group's brands was not a high-tech robocar, such as the Audi Aicon. Nor was the idea born in any of VW Group's three so-called Future Centers that the automaker operates around the world.
Instead, its genesis took shape in Turin, the heart of Italy's automotive sector. It was November 2016, the Geneva auto show was only months away, and staff at Audi subsidiary Italdesign didn't know what direction to take with their minicar concept.
Then after extensive brainstorming, designers had an epiphany. Soon after that, they traveled to Toulouse, France, for talks with the European aviation giant Airbus — the result was the first modular flying drone concept, the Pop.Up.
In theory, this wheeled vehicle allows the passenger cabin to detach from the chassis and integrate with a flight module. The combined unit then takes off using lift generated by four pairs of counter-rotating rotors.
The Pop.Up's debut last year was such a success that Audi protectively slapped its distinctive four-ringed logo on the concept before the unveiling of an updated version called the Pop.Up Next, at this year's Geneva show. Audi and Airbus recently signed a deal to test air taxis like the one designed from Italdesign around Audi's southern German hometown of Ingolstadt, which has heavy traffic congestion because of the automaker's rapid growth over the past decade.
"We could fly the Pop.Up by the end of 2019 if we decide it's the right way to go," Mark Cousin, Airbus' senior vice president and head of flight demonstrators, told Automotive News Europe.