Photo: Citroen

Cars are the future, I increasingly think, especially in the U.S., where huge investment in mass transportation seems unlikely and the infrastructure is designed pretty much exclusively for cars. Which is partly why urban electric cars are all the rage, one of the latest being Citroën’s Ami One concept, a delightful puppy from the future.

Volvo had unveiled a similar car not too long ago, the 360c concept, and, for now, it seems like things are heading in this direction: Electric cars, autonomous or not, that you can order up on an app, and will ferry you places, either in your neighborhood or hundreds of miles away.

And while Volvo’s concept takes the idea to its logical conclusion—its fully autonomous, and there are provisions for the passenger to sleep, and also talk of automated recharging at stations while you sleep—Citroën’s is a little more staid, if still nudging in that direction. You still have to drive it, for one thing. The Ami One will debut at the Geneva Motor Show next month.

Citroën’s press release says the car would have flexible ownership terms, another recent trend in car buying that we’ve seen with things like Care by Volvo.

Customers can access Ami One Concept for a minimum 5 minutes and adjust their usage at any time to several hours, with no commitment and all inclusive. The options can be customised to each person’s mobility requirements and address the need for 5 minutes, 5 hours or 5 days of use, as well as use over longer periods of time with rental offers for 5 months or long-term leasing arrangements for 5 years.

-5 minutes or 5 hours: the mobility object is made available at a given location for a given period of time through a carsharing offer operated by the Free2Move brand. Using the app dedicated to new forms of mobility, customers can choose their Ami One Concept in a few clicks.

-5 days: The mobility object is available in the form of an easy-access short-term rental offer. The customer simply reserves the vehicle on line at Citroën’s Rent&Smile site.

-5 months: commitment-free access for a shorter period of time than “conventional” ownership.

-5 years: the mobility object is also available as part of a five-year long-term leasing option with battery, maintenance and parking included in the monthly payment; With the 100% online purchasing journey, customers can choose the delivery location, be it at their home or the closest point of sale.

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I continue to object to the language of “mobility,” which is marketing, so calling it a “mobility object,” is doubly stupid—this thing is a car—but beyond that Citroën’s getting some things right here, as people, especially in urban environments, want cars when they want them, and otherwise want them to disappear.

Citroën’s concept isn’t nearly enough, but it’s just a concept and the idea itself is solid, even if the numbers are far from impressive. The top speed is 45 kph, or 27 mph (more on this in a minute), with a range of 62 miles, while a complete charge would take two hours. The car is just over eight feet long, and weighs under 1,000 pounds.

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Still, the most interesting part of this concept, for my money, is the sound it emits while operating. That sound is intended to alert pedestrians of its presence. And while carmakers have handled this in a variety of ways, Citroën’s doing it by introducing ... human voices.

It is equipped with its own sound signature, developed by the Start-Rec agency with the designers of the Citroën brand. The sounds emitted by Ami One Concept reflect all of its personality. It features original and organic music blending male and female voices, worlds away from the digital cliché of the “robot”.

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Further, you won’t even need a license to operate the Ami One, in France at least, Citroën says, a fact which seems to be tied to its low top speed.

Accessible for all from the age of 16 (European countries average/according to the legislation), Ami One Concept is intended for urban customers with or without a driver’s licence and who share with the Brand the same love for the freedom of movement.

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So-called voitures sans permis are actually an old tradition in France, according to a BBC story from 2016.

Although the literal translation is “car without licence” it is in fact the driver who doesn’t need to bother himself or herself with any proof of ability behind the wheel.

Once seen as an anachronism that, given time, would inevitably be legislated out of existence they remain a vital means of transport for an ageing rural population. For the most part they are scruffy and battered. Their bodywork is faded and peeling, often touched-up with a spot of household gloss paint. Wire and gaffer tape hold loose panels together and one I saw had its bumper held in place with washing line fashioned into an elaborate blanket stitch.

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We need more slow, aging mice on the road that almost anyone can hop into.

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