Citroën Introduces Oli Concept: A Miniature EV for Our Dystopian Future

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
citron introduces oli concept a miniature ev for our dystopian future

Following Citroën’s preview of its new logo, there was a healthy buzz around the foreshadowed concept model that would first wear the badge. As French automakers are known for going against the grain, occasionally resulting in some brilliant innovation, there was a level of genuine excitement that the brand would deliver something truly novel during a period where the industry seemed to be running out of ideas. 

The resulting vehicle turned out to be extremely innovative. However, it wasn’t quite the morale booster some of us had anticipated, because the concept isn’t designed for today’s world. Instead, Citroën delivered a vehicle that’s designed for a future existence where resources are unavailable and people have to make do with less of everything. Though that doesn’t mean some of the concepts included in the design aren’t absolutely brilliant.

Citroën’s Oli Concept (apparently pronounced “all-e”), is a small all-electric SUV for people who are struggling to exist and replaces parts of an automobile that normally would have been made out of steel with treated cardboard. Developed in partnership with German chemical firm BASF, the small EV is indeed unique. But it’s also kind of tragic in its bleak assessment of the future.  

"It's more than just a concept car like you're used to seeing," Citroën director of future products Anne Laliron told Reuters. "It's almost an expression of new lifestyles."

Operating under the assumption that nobody but the elite will have access to natural resources in the near future, the Oli Concept is described by the manufacturer as a laboratory on wheels. However, despite the playful styling, its mission is a harrowing one that involves figuring out how to make do with fewer materials and keeping elevated EV pricing as low as possible. 

The windows are made from thinner glass and treated cardboard has been used to replace steel panels wherever possible. While arguably not as strong as traditional metal solutions, Citroën said the plasticized honeycomb cardboard format makes it strong enough for the roof to withstand the weight of your average human being. As a bonus, it also helps make the vehicle lighter – meaning it utilizes less energy whilst moving than it otherwise would have. 

Under ideal conditions, the manufacturer estimated that the 2,200-pound Oli Concept’s 40-kWh battery is capable of 248 miles between charges. Better still, all that energy can allegedly be recouped rather quickly, sent back into the grid, or stored and used to power the home whenever energy prices spike. 

Recycling was another major theme for the Oli, with Citroën claiming that the vehicle should last several generations. Doors lack any electronic equipment, meaning they can be more easily replaced, and the interior is fairly light on tech as well. For some, this will be viewed as a step backward. But your author and plenty of other drivers are getting tired of automakers adding tech simply for the sake of looking like they’re on the cutting edge – especially when a lot of it seems to offer little practical advantage. While this means more manual controls (e.g. roll-down windows and old-fashioned keys), it should also result in leaner repair bills and fewer broken components when the Oli starts getting on in years. The car doesn’t even seem to utilize modern connectivity features, opting instead to give the driver the ability to integrate their phone for things like navigation and comms. 

There’s also a vertical windshield that’s designed to help mitigate solar radiation, meaning the cabin should remain cooler and require less energy for air conditioning. If you’re wondering how that’ll impact aerodynamics, Citroën doesn’t seem to be all that concerned. There’s a vent on the hood to help create smoother airflow. But the Oli is likewise assumed to spend a majority of its time traveling on badly maintained roads at low speeds and tops out at a lean 68 mph. This theme is also represented by the concept’s tires, which are a set of experimental Goodyear Eagle GOs that are supposed to last much longer than traditional tires. 

"It's an object that will last, that we will be able to repair, always bearing in mind that we used resources to manufacture it," Laliron said. "We must therefore make it last as long as possible."

The suspension is also supposed to be designed for durability, rather than comfort. However, to keep occupants more comfortable, Citroën utilized seats mounted on tubular frames attached to the floor through shock-absorbing rings. In fact, the whole car seems purposefully designed to be manufactured and maintained cheaply without being the kind of vehicle that falls apart. 

Frankly, there’s a lot to like here and I’m absolutely positive there’s a market for small, rugged vehicles that are relatively easy to fix. But there’s also something kind of sad about the generalized premise that a car like this will soon become the norm. Numerous outlets made reference to the plasticized cardboard being akin to Duroplast – the plastic reinforced with cotton waste used on select garbage vehicles assembled by the Soviet Union. While there are certainly criticisms to be made about vehicles designed by government dictum, it’s perfectly fine to explore new construction materials. Fiberglass and carbon fiber are physical proof that it’s worth taking the risk. 

But that doesn’t mean the Citroën Oli will make for a good vehicle. Much of the concept’s simplicity is clearly designed to lower manufacturing costs, something that’s on every automaker’s mind as EV prices continue to outpace their combustion-reliant alternatives. If that works out to mean less cost for the consumer, that’s excellent. However, nobody is going to want one if it still ends up being more expensive than combustion-reliant alternatives, feels exceptionally cheap, or fails to be as durable as claimed.

It’s also not the best-looking vehicle in the world. Though the boxy design does allow for the rear folding tailgate to be opened and expanded from 26.7 inches to 41.3 inches. Interior capacity is also helped by the flat floor. 

Then there’s the elephant in the room. Citroën is using this vehicle to present this horrible vision of the future where nobody has access to commodities. It’s a depressing notion and one that actually seems to have more to do with mismanaged supply chains and top-down decision-making than it does anything else. While I love the idea of a long-lived, recyclable vehicle with less invasive technology that’ll be easier to repair at home, it’s hard to get excited about a car that tops out at 68 mph and ditches a lot of the creature comforts we’ve gotten accustomed to. 

Instead of coming with integrated speakers, the Oli gives customers the option of installing or removing their own Bluetooth units. Rather than giving you a traditional dashboard, drivers will have a little information bar with the ability to dock their phone and control everything (other than the HVAC system) via a single joystick mounted on the steering wheel. In many ways, you’re being offered less for the promise of the car not letting you down decades later.

It’s an interesting proposition. But one that parent company Stellantis will need to be very careful about implementing. Since Citroën’s concept is supposed to serve as a rolling laboratory, a lot of these ideas are likely to make their way into production vehicles. However, determining which aspects the public will snub is going to be tricky. Despite the world seeming eager for affordable automobiles that can take prolonged abuse, consumers will only tolerate so much austerity.

[Images: Stellantis]

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2 of 33 comments
  • MaintenanceCosts MaintenanceCosts on Oct 01, 2022

    Figures that Americans feel threatened whenever someone tries to figure out ways to do things more efficiently.

    If you live in a giant house in the suburbs and drive everywhere on 75 mph freeways, this isn't about you. It's about places where, honestly, 30 mph is enough for all streets, and where typical cars designed around suburbia feel and act like elephants in a china shop.

    If every car used for single-occupant commuting in central cities were replaced with something like this, it would be a big win for everyone: the city would be a safer, quieter, nicer, and more environmentally sustainable place, without any significant downside.

  • Kendahl Kendahl on Oct 02, 2022

    One thing I've learned is that cars I buy for local errands tend to be taken on 1,000 mile trips, too. We have a 5-speed Focus SE that has gone on longer trips than I ever expected. It has served us well although, if I had it to do over again, I would have bought an ST. At the time of purchase, we didn't plan to move from 1,000 feet elevation to 6,500. The SE is still adequate but the ST's turbo and extra power would have been welcome.

  • Master Baiter True self-driving is going to require dedicated roads, and a requirement that all cars on such roads have a minimal suite of self-driving hardware and software. Given that that Washington is incapable of building anything other than bombs and missiles, some other country, probably China, will have to lead the way. Maybe 20 years after they have this in Asia, we'll get self-driving here in the U.S.
  • IH_Fever The sales model was neat, especially the delivery part, but other than that, what was carvana besides carmax without a traditional brick and mortar lot? It couldn't keep its finances (or title documents) in order. Let it burn.
  • IH_Fever EV charger on a GM lot, probably with a Cummins generator to keep them running. A regular melting pot haha
  • Tassos Wake me up when VW (or any other loser "Legacy" automaker comes up with a "BETTER TESLA" BEV AT THE SAME PRICE. SO far, VW has FAILED MISERABLY AND LOST BILLIONS DOING IT. Its models are way underwhelming and inferior, and cost not much less than the model 3. ANd DESPITE the SCANDALOUS $7,500 tax credit, which is an INVERSE ROBIN HOOD, takes from the average household and gives it to the average BEV buying family, which has an income of $170k+, VW STILL FAILED.ALso notice the so-called "Mobility Officers" at FORD AND Renault QUIT. another HUGE SCAM, Autonomous Vehicles, they wasted 100s of billions (all idiot legacy makers together) and predicted billions of profits, but so far they DROWN IN A SEA OF RED INK with NOTHING to show for it. Morons will be morons, and the ones in this forum will cheer for their failures "AWESOME, WV, Indeed"! LOL!!!
  • Jwee More range and faster charging cannot be good news for the heavily indebted and distracted Musk.Tesla China is discounting their cars. Apart from the Model 3, no one is much buying Tesla's here in Europe. Other groups have already passed Tesla in Europe, where it was once dominant.Among manufacturers, 2021 EV sales:VW Group 25%, Stellantis at 14.5%,Tesla at 13.9%Hyundai-Kia at 11.2% Renault Group at 10.3%. Just 2 years ago, Tesla had a commanding 31.1% share of the European EV marketOuch., changed their data, so this is slightly different than last time I posted this, but same idea.