Audi has created a sleek, low electric one-off roadster concept with a variable-geometry wheelbase that transforms between autonomous Grand Tourer mode and a sports car.
The Skysphere — the first of three electric vehicle concepts that will lay out a path for the brand as it transitions beyond the internal combustion engine — will be on display at this week's Concours d'Elegance events in Pebble Beach, California.
The two still-unrevealed concepts are called Grandsphere and Urbansphere, and they are intended to define how users will interact with vehicles with Level 4 autonomous capabilities, as well as how those vehicles interact with their surroundings.
The Skysphere has a cool, defining trick — one that is very likely to remain in concept form, given regulatory requirements: the "engine bay" and front wheels retract 250 mm (10 inches) rearward while a steering wheel and foot pedals appear in the cockpit when the user transitions from autonomous mode into taking command of the vehicle.
The transition, which takes several seconds, gives the concept "dual personalities," says Henrik Wenders, senior vice president of Audi.
With the touch of button, the driver can choose two driving experiences:
- Driving a 4940 mm-long electric-roadster with a reduced wheelbase and rear-wheel steering that ensures that the vehicle remains extremely agile despite its dimensions.
- Being chauffeured in a 5190-mm long autonomous Grand Tourer with maximum legroom.
The concept has an 80-kilowatt-hour battery pack and is driven by a single electric motor on the rear axle capable of generating 465 hp and up to 750 Newton meters (553 pound-feet) of torque.
The Skysphere, which is just 1230 mm (4 feet) tall, highlights its exaggerated front hood with heightened front wheel arches to carry the massive 23-inch wheels, which themselves feature slits designed to cool its regenerative braking.
The grille is covered in glass and houses an array of sensors that would one day enable Level 4 autonomy, a look that is carried back below its aerodynamic rear deck. To increase ease of entrance to the cabin, its two doors are hinged in the rear.