The first thing you notice is the car’s body, whose shape is reminiscent of a diamond and made entirely of glass. The glass surrounding the cabin extends all the way to ground level, providing unrivalled all-round visibility. It gives the passengers a panorama view with Keyerleber saying that this maximised transparency should give passengers a close connection to the outside world — while still allowing them to feel protected from its dangers.
The colour of the AI:TRAIL should be (fittingly) reminiscent of the north European wilderness — the unique silvery light of Scandinavia and the blue shading of the northern seas. But, with a length of 4.15 meters and a height of 1.67 meters, the concept car is relatively compact. Its singleframe grille serves as more than just a brand element that ties the 2019 concept car with the brand’s previous cars. The singleframe also serves to tie the exterior to the interior of the electric car.
The “Trail” part of the name suggests the idea of exploring nature. Marc Lichte, Audi’s Head of Design, describes: “With the AI:TRAIL, we are showing an off-road concept with an emissions-free electric drive for an innovative driving experience away from paved roads. Consistent with this, we designed a monolithic basic vehicle body with maximum glazing to create an intense connection to the surroundings. A concept for sustainable mobility on demand.”
With an exterior length of 4.15 meters (13.5 ft) and a width of 2.15 meters (7.05 ft), the brawny Audi AI:TRAIL’s potential away from paved roads is immediately apparent. The roof height of 1.67 meters (5.5 ft) and the enormous 22-inch wheels with 850 mm (33.5 in) tires hint at the vehicle’s excellent off-road capabilities even when it is standing still.
Breaking the boundaries
It’s easy to see that the Audi concept car is designed for use on rough terrain — the quattro drive has become a design element. Eye-catching tires with visible technical elements give the car a good grip on the damp forest floor. They provide the link between the quattro drive and the car’s body. Keyerleber explains: “The low centre of gravity — created by placing the battery in the underbody and using four electric motors — shows off the quattro of the future. We want to get around quietly and without emissions — to protect the environment.”
The cabin itself is an extensively glazed space surrounded by polygonal shapes, with room for up to four people. One characteristic feature—and one that indicates the vehicle’s kinship with Aicon and AI:ME—is the protruding ridge halfway up the side windows. This line continues to both the front and rear and acts as a waistline uniting the entire body in one monolithic whole. With the electric drive system arranged around the axles and the battery in the floor, there is no need for overhanging sections or separate attachments for the motor or batteries.
The driver can choose autonomous driving level 3 (on forest roads) or 4 (on paved streets). On rough terrain, though, the driver still needs to drive. “This lets drivers either concentrate on nature with all of their senses, or enjoy a special blend of the feeling behind the wheel and the outdoor experience — in the truest sense of the word.
Like in previous concept cars, the Audi designers use recycled materials in the AI:TRAIL. The carpet is made of reprocessed wool with recycled leather, both of which are sustainable and durable, and feature excellent acoustic and climatic properties. There is storage space between the seats and also under the windshield. Tensioning straps secure any stowed objects, which can also be loaded from the outside through the upward-folding windshield. Seat belt retractors ensure that the tensioning straps always have optimum tension.
The second row features a novelty in the form of two seats designed like hammocks. When taut and tensioned in a transportable tubular frame, panels of fabric form a comfortable seating surface and backrest, and the backrest that is drawn around to the side even provides lateral support. These seats are good for relaxation in more ways than one, as they can even be taken out of the AI:TRAIL and used as mobile outdoor chairs.
The interior of the Audi AI:TRAIL already made waves at the IAA 2019: rather than rear passenger seats, the car is outfitted with two hanging chairs that work according to the same principle as a hammock. And, as if this weren’t unusual enough, passengers can easily remove the hanging chair and bring it with them. “This way, Audi accompanies the driver on his entire trip, whether in the car or on the hiking trail,” explains Keyerleber. The outdoor theme carries over into the entire interior of the electric car. The grab handles are made of climbing rope that is knotted using macramé techniques. And the functionality is essential. The armrests, for example, are treated with an anti-bacterial, dirt-repellant coating. Gadgets like portable water bottles and light objects with a flashlight feature can be used on trips outside of the car. The “light companion” can scan the path and ensure that that the hiker finds their way back safely with everything being designed with practicality in mind.
Oliver Keyerleber, Design Project Management Showcar at Audi
Light up the sky
Instead of conventional headlights, self-contained light sources sit below the A-pillars and can shine both outward and inward. These LED elements are dimmable and adjustable and can be used as interior lighting as well as for lighting the vehicle’s path. The rear light operates in a similar way. Extending across the full width of the rear section, this element can be used to illuminate the luggage compartment and as distinctive signature lighting for the exterior. Instead of conventional low beams and high beams, the Audi AI:TRAIL is equipped with a total of five rotorless, triangular, electrically operated drones with integrated matrix LED elements. They are capable of landing on a roof rack or directly on the roof of the vehicle, and docking onto the inductive charging elements.
The flying objects are Audi Light Pathfinders, which generate their lift in the same way as bladeless fans produce their air flow. Thanks to their markedly lightweight design, they can fly ahead of the AI:TRAIL, consuming comparably little energy in the process, and illuminate the path ahead, thereby replacing headlights entirely. If desired, the on-board cameras 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.
When the AI:TRAIL is stationary, the drones can also illuminate the surrounding area from their position on the roof; for example, when the occupants are enjoying a picnic next to the vehicle. They can also illuminate the interior through the transparent panoramic roof if the occupants prefer to remain inside the vehicle.
The drones, which are coordinated fully automatically by the AI:TRAIL, usually fly at least in pairs. If necessary, they can also provide additional light intensity or illuminate the area around the vehicle by coming together to form groups of up to five drones. The occupants can simply use control software on their smartphones to set their desired scenario.
The Audi Light Companion is just as easy to use. This is a light source that is shaped like a large flashlight but has a much more extensive range of functions. It is normally magnetically attached to the front side of the seat, where it acts as ambient lighting. However, you can also take the Light Companion with you when you leave the AI:TRAIL, and this is when it really shows what it can do. Integrated in its housing are three legs that can be used to stand the light in place and turn it into a campfire light or a close-range floodlight. The housing also accommodates several cameras that can scan the way ahead or take videos of the scenery, which can then be uploaded directly so social media.
Going the distance
The AI:TRAIL is intended for use around areas without charing options, therefore, the range is important. The stated target with its lithium-ion battery is 400 to 500 kilometres (248.5 to 310.7 mi) on roads or easy off-road terrain (in line with the WLTP). On rough ground, where the almost constantly elevated wheel slip alone means that energy consumption is higher, the limit is still an impressive 250 kilometres (155.3 mi). The vehicle is designed to reach a maximum speed of 130 km/h (80.8 mph) on the road and the electronics continuously monitor the energy flow and consumption, thereby ensuring maximum economy even during off-road driving.
The Audi AI:TRAIL is equipped with four electric motors installed near the wheels, each of which propels one wheel directly. The maximum system output is 320 kilowatts and the maximum torque is 1,000 Newton-metres (737.6 lb-ft). Usually only a fraction of this power is mobilised; the drive of just one axle is often sufficient. Due to the individually propelled wheels, the vehicle can do without differentials and locks, which also consume energy. Thanks to the moderately calculated maximum speed, the gear ratio can be designed such that every wheel is provided with enough torque even without a multi-speed transmission.