Some people think “Citroën” is how you say “weird” in French, and the new Citroën oli does nothing to dispel that idea. This is a company that has always charted its own course. It was one of the first to manufacture front-wheel drive cars like the 11CV sedan that became the vehicles of choice for a gang of criminals in Paris after World War II because its superior handling allowed them to outmaneuver the police. They became known as Le Gang Des Traction Avant, with the infamous René La Canne, aka “the king of evasion,” at the wheel.
Citroën also came up with the much beloved Deux Chevaux, France’s answer to the Volkswagen Beetle. It looked like it was manufactured from old Quonset huts and had a suspension that seemed to be filled with marshmallows to help it negotiated the bomb cratered roads of post-war France. And then there was the famous Citroën DS, the large limousine that defied virtually all automotive conventions. It used pressurized rubber bladders instead of springs in a system that was insanely complex, but gave the cars a serene ride few others could match.
Now part of Stellantis, Citroën has been dipping its toe in the electric car with its Ami, a diminutive, no frills conveyance that is perfect for flitting around congested cities like Paris, but not so great for trans-Continental road trips. It also has introduced several appealing electric cars and trucks. This week, the company introduced the next step in its electrification journey, the oli. The company says it should be called all-ë — a clever play on the fact that the car is all electric and the diaeresis that is an intrinsic part of the company name.
And what is a Citroën oli? According to a Stellantis press release, it is a “radical, responsible, and optimistic approach that initiates audacious future intentions for the brand.” In other words, it is like every other Citroën ever made — defiantly different and proud of it.
While Ami was literally a small step in ‘walking the talk’, oli signals an exciting leap forward, the company says. Rather than being a 2500 kg “palace on wheels” filled with screens and gadgets, oli proves that with enough of the things customers need and want, supported by the inventive use of responsible materials and a sustainable production process, the societal need can be met for inexpensive yet desirable zero emission mobility that enables multiple lifestyles, the company says.
Vincent Cobée, CEO of Citroën, explains why the time is right for oli. “Three societal conflicts are happening simultaneously. First is the value of and dependence on mobility, second is economic constraints and resource uncertainty, and third is our growing sense of desire for a responsible and optimistic future. Consumers can sense the era of abundance may be over and increasing regulations as well as rising costs may limit our ability to move around freely. At the same time, a growing awareness of the need to accelerate efforts to prevent climate change is making us more eco-conscious and discerning.” That “end of abundance” theme is something you hear about these days, but not something most companies talk about in public.
“A typical mid-70s family car weighed around 800 kg and was 3.7 meters long and 1.6 meters wide. Today’s equivalents have grown to more than 1200 kg, at least 4.3 meters long and 1.8 meters wide. Some even weigh more than 2500 kg,” the company says with a touch of horror. “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.” Bravo for Citroën for putting that out there. It’s a conversation humanity needs to have.
“Citroën believes electrification should not mean extortion and being eco-conscious should not be punitive by restricting our mobility or making vehicles less rewarding to live with. We need to reverse the trends by making them lighter and less expensive and find inventive ways to maximize usage and refurbish for subsequent owners. Otherwise, families won’t be able to afford the freedom of mobility when all-electric vehicles become the only option available to them. oli is a powerful demonstration of how Citroën is confronting these conflicts head-on and with optimism,” Cobée adds.
Why Does The Citroën Oli Look Like That?
The oli looks like a cross between a Pontiac Aztek and a 1947 Willys Jeep with a soupçon of BMW i3 in those rear windows that drop below the beltline of the car. The car is styled the way it is because the company says that’s the way to make it efficient and user friendly for families. The concept, which is not intended for production, has a modest 40 kWh battery, but that’s enough for it to give it a range of 400 kilometers. Top speed is limited to 110 km/h because really, how often do people need to drive faster than that? There are few other details about the powertrain, but the company says the battery can be recharged from 20% to 80% in 23 minutes.
It’s all about efficiency, says Laurence Hansen, head of product development. “It’s a vicious circle — delivering more electric driving range requires a bigger battery. Adding more technology requires more power, which also means a bigger battery. All of this adds weight, complexity and cost, and the more a vehicle weighs, the less efficient it becomes. oli shows what can happen when we take a completely different approach. We wanted to use only the amount of materials we really needed, so we have ruthlessly pursued the objective of putting the right resources where they are required, and limiting the impact of the use of those resources.”
When the number of parts and components is intelligently reduced, the lightest and most responsible materials are used, and complexity is minimized while versatility and functionality is increased. The result is something much more efficient, very affordable, and less complicated, while also being unexpectedly genial in its design and usefulness.
Take that vertical windshield, for example. Pierre Sabas, head of design, says it 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 and lessens the exposure of occupants to the effects of the sun. It is estimated it helps reduce the power demand of oli’s modest air conditioning system by 17%.
“You could argue a vertical screen is less aerodynamic, but we don’t expect people to drive this kind of vehicle at 200 km/h. We see it being most useful in urban and suburban areas where people reduce speed and are aware of the environmental and safety aspects of everyday mobility.”
Its flat hood, roof, and rear pickup bed panels were chosen to meet the objectives for low weight, high strength, and maximum durability. They are made from recycled corrugated cardboard formed into a honeycomb sandwich structure between fiberglass reinforcing panels created in partnership with 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% when compared to an equivalent steel roof construction. Their versatility and durability open up a world of possibilities for owners to enjoy work and recreation. Whatever use can be imagined, from using the roof as a ladder to a platform to mount a tent, usefulness comes without added weight or cost of exotic materials. It is hard to believe that 6 kg panels can carry the weight of an adult, as well as be good looking and long lasting, but they are.
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 hood are neatly detailed storage areas, including compartments for charging cables plus personal and emergency items.
Car As Battery On Wheels
While using the battery in an electric car to power accessories, a home, or the grid is still an idea that is in its infancy, the Citroën oli embraces it as one of its central features. The company envisions the oli as a useful electric device that acts naturally as a link between rooftop solar panels, a consumer’s need for electricity on the move or at home, and the wider electricity network. By supporting smart Vehicle-to-Grid capability, the potential exists for a vehicle like oli to make money for its owner by storing excess energy from home solar panels and selling it back to energy suppliers, as well as helping to manage power issues when there is peak demand or a power outage in the grid.
Citroën oli is effectively a life partner, the company says — a useful everyday entity that helps people live life to the fullest, even when it’s not on the move. It is a sanctuary free from the onslaught of new technology, a member of the family to enjoy, and a device to visibly re-connect with nature and ecology.
“Rather than the home they live in or vehicle they drive, people increasingly see their ecological footprint as an authentic and positive expression of who they are and the way they live,” says Anne Laliron, head of advanced products. “We believe oli will genuinely inspire them with its genial and vivacious ways of doing things differently to simplify and enjoy life while reducing our impact on the planet’s resources.”
When I started writing this story, I thought it was about yet another quirky vehicle from Citroen, like the Ami. But as I read the press release, I was impressed with the thought that went into this concept and the philosophy behind it. Clearly Citroën has a fresh perspective on what a car should be in the world most of us will inhabit in the near future.
It’s an “everything you need; nothing you don’t” vehicle that answers questions other manufacturers haven’t even thought to ask yet. One could argue that it completes the transition to electric transportation that Elon Musk started but never really finished.
If you read the entire press release, it is packed with innovative ideas and although the car itself was never intended for production, many of those ideas will find their way into future automobiles with the familiar deux chevaux logo.
When you stopped being shocked by how it looks and understand how it came to be and why, the oli is not just another weird car from Citroën [The Snake was just flat out weird], it is positively brilliant and exactly what is needed to move the EV revolution forward for millions of drivers. It won’t win any drag races, but if that is what you are focused on, you’re missing the point.
The Citroën oli is an important car, one that will send shock waves through the industry. “I see the road ahead is turning. I wonder what’s around the bend,” said Charles Kuralt at the end of every one of his video odysseys. The oli may well be what’s around the bend for the world of automobiles.
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