Cardboard Car Goes Simple

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    The Citroën Oli concept car has parts made of strong cardboard with a plastic coating. Those parts include its roof and hood. (Reuters/Gilles Guillaume)
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    A concept car showcases new design or technology. (Reuters/Gilles Guillaume)
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    Oli’s windshield is completely vertical. (Reuters/Gilles Guillaume)
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    The Citroën e-C4 all-electric hatchback is a more typical car. It has parts that are much more complicated than Oli’s parts. (AP/Michel Euler)
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    People joked that the Trabant from East Germany was made of cardboard. Oli actually is! (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B0503-0015-001/Weiß/CC-BY-SA 3.0)
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A German chemical giant and a French car company collaborated. The result is a boxy, sci-fi-looking electric automobile. But what really has folks talking is the car’s cardboard parts.

The Trabant was a small car produced in the former East Germany from 1957-91. A common urban myth held that the much-criticized “Trabi” had a body made of cardboard. Rumor claimed that in a hard rain, one could punch a hole in the car. Actually, the Trabant was made of plastic reinforced with recycled cotton waste from the former Soviet Union. But who doesn’t love a good story?

French automobile brand Citroën and German chemical company BASF recently unveiled a car that reminds some people of that popular legend.

The roof and hood of the Citroën Oli are made from a new type of cardboard—a specialized honeycomb format reinforced with a plastic coating. But unlike the Trabi, Oli’s parts are strong. A person could stand on the car without causing it to buckle.

Work on Citroën’s concept car began in 2019. The car’s debut comes in an era beset by raw material shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Oli vaguely resembles a car built of LEGO bricks. It sports a completely vertical windshield—no slant here—designed to reduce the amount of glass needed and save weight.

The windscreen also cuts the impact of solar heat inside the vehicle, reducing the need for air conditioning. On the hood, a vent recreates a windscreen’s effect on vehicle aerodynamics.

To account for current component shortages, the Oli weighs only about 2,200 pounds. It cannot exceed 68 miles per hour.

“With Oli, we say enough—enough of oversizing of cars, with many features that you’ll never use,” Citroën director of future products Anne Laliron says. “Some features are used two percent of the time. So we said, ‘OK, how can we reduce to what is really necessary?’”

Door panels have only eight parts. Compare that to an average of 35 in today’s cars. Windows roll manually. Door locks use a traditional key. The car’s dash uses the driver’s mobile phone for communication or entertainment.

Oli is recyclable and easy to repair. Designers say it can last at least three generations, or 50 years.

Citroën’s concept car shows the company’s commitment to affordable, sustainable, simple autos. Though you probably won’t find Oli on the streets, you just might see elements of its distinctive design cropping up in other vehicles.

Why? Design creativity reflects the infinitely creative mind of God. When humans use that skill, they reflect His attributes as they address solutions to problems in our world.