Although Audi isn't typically associated with urban concepts, their recent forays into the electric car world coupled with some direct competition on that front from BMW's i3 concept seem to have spurred the company into taking future transportation in urban settings seriously.

The Audi urban concept - set to be officially unveiled at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show next month - looks more like a vehicle that might be featured in the next sci-fi blockbuster, but Audi seems to have an earnest interest in it, saying that it doesn't fit into any conventional categories and that it isn't based on any existing platform.

In order to achieve the highest efficiency possible, the urban concept is aerodynamic and has jettisoned extra weight in favor of "reductionism," and concentrates on the "pure essence of sporty motion," according to Audi. Indeed, the vehicle conjures up images of futuristic go-karting tracks and is built with a lightweight carbon fiber cockpit - and ?cockpit' is absolutely the right word, given that the whole roof slides back to allow occupants to get in and out.

Audi designed the urban concept as an electric car with a mind towards reducing emissions in urban areas. Two electric motors provide propulsion and a lithium-ion battery under the floor stores electricity. It's a concept car, so Audi hasn't indicated what driving range they might expect it to have or how powerful the electric motors are.

As a 1+1 seater, the driver and passenger of the urban concept sit next to each other, but the passenger is staggered behind the driver to allow for additional passenger legroom and better visibility for the driver. In most circles, a 2-seater is normally the kiss of death, but as transportation in the world's cities becomes increasingly congested and parking scarce, Audi is betting the configuration becomes a more acceptable and practical way to get around.

Audi calls the urban concept "radical," which means it isn't likely to see actual production, but automakers normally use these kinds of concepts to hint at what they view as the major trends of tomorrow. So, while you won't be able to pop down to your local Audi dealer and pick one up, you can be sure that the urban design considerations of maneuverability, visibility, compactness, and efficiency addressed by the concept will be factored into future Audi products.

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Nick Chambers is a "next generation" car enthusiast, recognized for his green automotive coverage in Gas 2.0, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, and In addition, he's been syndicated in Matter Network, AP and Reuters.

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