Electric-Hybrid Citroën Osmose Exhibited in Paris

November 30, 2000 by Jeff Shepard

Mondial de l'Automobile, also known as the Paris Auto Show, saw the presentation of many new and experimental concept-cars, but Citroën's (France) radically innovative Osmose may have been the most unusual of them all. Displayed in Paris from the 30 September through the 15 October 2000, the Osmose provoked more controversy than perhaps any other hybrid-electric vehicle shown. This is due less to the design specifications of the car than to the bizarre, boundary-breaking ideas behind it.

Beyond the vehicle's boxy, funky shape, the Citroën Osmose is equipped with a multitude of gadgets in addition to such ordinary features as external roof-bars, a CD player and 12V sockets. The seating arrangement, for example, calls for the driver to be in the front and middle of the vehicle. Located behind and to the left and right of the driver's place are the two passenger seats. The steering wheel -- which adjusts itself to the driver -- includes an information-display screen at its center which displays data about traffic and the like. Most unusually, however, is the fact that the Osmose features a translucent roof which casts shadows of leaves onto the floor of the car; these shadows are cast by leaf-shaped sun-sensors, which are used to power the air filter.

The vehicle, which is said to have "an excellent range," is powered by a hybrid-electric system. The car has an all-electric zero-emission driving mode to help reduce pollution when driving in the city. The Osmose, however, goes beyond a hybrid-electric engine in its attempt to be environment-friendly, and it is in this respect that the vehicle is truly unique.

The Osmose is designed to facilitate car-pooling. The front half of the car has room for three passengers and their luggage. Behind their three seats is extra space. Upon a command, however, the back tailgate door can slide towards the front to separate the vehicle into two totally discrete compartments. In this configuration, the back half resembles the bed of a truck, but with a roof, and can accommodate two additional passengers seated facing the rear. When the car is split into two, the halves are connected by means of an on-board audio and video communication system.

Who are these passengers in the back? Well, this is where the idea gets even stranger. The Osmose is designed so that the driver can display his/her direction and destination to would-be hitch-hikers by means of a side display panel on the exterior of the vehicle. Interested pedestrians going the same way can then contact the driver by means of a WAP phone, or else by flagging them down.

All this translates into a sort of free taxi service for people. In the Osmose's favor, it allows drivers to travel more efficiently: instead of one person driving alone, and thereby wasting energy, Citroën's concept-car allows them to carpool with people they don't even know. It is for this reason that Citroën's slogan for the car is “Separate Lives, Shared Moments." On the other hand, though, responses posted online indicate that people are concerned about the safety of picking up random strangers. The design is so out-of-the-ordinary that it can't help but provoke controversy and debate.

Is the whole idea inane, inept, insane? Or is it inventive, inspired, ingenious? One thing is for certain: the Citroën Osmose is nothing if it's not original.