Sometimes concepts cars are utter flights of fancy. Sometimes, they are only slightly ahead of their time. The 2000 Citroën Osmose is kind of a mixture of both. What is so interesting about this particular concept isn’t so much the vehicle itself (although it is pretty far out there), but idea of a ride sharing service that was presented along with the car.
Long before “social media” or “ride sharing” were even things, in 2000 Citroën had come up with the idea of utilizing the extra capacity in your car to transport strangers, all coordinated by mobile phones, no less. As envisioned by Citroën, the process would have worked something like this:
Your Osmose would have an electronic signboard on the side, with which you could signal to pedestrians your destination and willingness to take passengers. Riders could also use their phone to locate an Osmose headed to their destination, or at least in their general direction. Either way, once the car pulled up, the rider pushed a button on the car to alert the driver, and hopped in. That’s it.
Citroën’s vision of ride sharing clearly owed a lot to contemporary taxi cabs, where one would hail a car at streetside that happened to be passing by and going your way. There was no concept of making special trips just to take passengers or going out of your way to pick them up: Riders are no more than guests that tag along to where you happen to be going.
Most automakers’ visions of the future tend to be somewhat utopian, and Citroën’s was no different. Notably missing is any mention of compensation to the driver for said ride sharing services. Instead, their vision appears to be ride sharing in the most literal sense, relying on a “pay it forward” model where the ride I give today will be paid back by a ride someone else gives me tomorrow. No mention is made in this idyllic future of Uber drivers sleeping in their cars, or commuting for hours to take advantage of surge pricing.
Citroën missed a few other things as well. To assuage turn of the century drivers of stranger danger, “hitch hikers” (as Citroen’s press release referred to them) rode in two rear facing seats in a separate compartment, completely isolated from their driver by a bulkhead and glass (I’m sure there are modern Uber riders and drivers that wish this part had come true). Not mentioned: The possibility of using this compartment as an isolation chamber for noisy kids or in-laws.
As to the car itself, aside from the styling it was somewhat conventional. It was powered by a hybrid electric powertrain (still somewhat of a novelty in 2000), capable of running in electric-only mode for cities with emission restricted zones. It featured exterior pedestrian airbags to further bolster its urban-friendly cred. Sliding doors on either side afforded access to the front passenger compartment, with a centrally located drivers seat. Rear passengers entered through the hatchback, which appeared to open using some sort of clamshell arrangement to eliminate a tailgate.
Still, you have to give Citroen credit for putting forward the then fanciful idea of ride sharing. They got the broad strokes of the coming age shared mobility right, even if they missed some of the details. The idea of people using their vehicles to share rides with strangers had to seem preposterous in 2000, but it turned out to be surprisingly prescient.
Jim Klein participated in two types of sharing services in the Bay Area, and has written up his experiences here: