IM Motors Airo: New Routemaster designer creates air-cleaning EV

London-based design house Heatherwick Studios, best known for styling the ‘New Routemaster’ London bus, has designed a self-driving electric car that “cleans the air” as it drives.

The Airo concept, revealed at the Shanghai motor show, has been designed for nascent Chinese EV manufacturer IM Motors, founded jointly by SAIC Motor, R&D firm Zhangjiang Hi-Tech and e-commerce giant Alibaba. 

It is set to go into production in 2023 as “a fully electric vehicle with autonomous and driver-controlled modes”, and is unique in being equipped with a high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filtering system that “cleans the air from the pollution of other vehicles”. 

Heatherwick’s design for the IM Motors Airo is a clear reflection of its self-driving capabilities: the two rows of seats face each other (with room for a sizeable table in between), the minimalistic dashboard can be used to show videos and the airy cabin can even accommodate a full double bed with the seats reclined.

“This is clearly a space to spend time in even when you’re not on a journey,” Heatherwick says. Other unique features include a full panoramic roof that becomes opaque “on command”, and a foldaway screen that turns the interior into a “perfect gaming pod”. 

Details of the car’s powertrain and performance remain under wraps, but Heatherwick has revealed a minimalistic, bespoke charging station for IM Motors that it says will become “part of the infrastructure of the city”. Made from weathered steel, the simple structure houses a retractable wire and “ergonomic handle” to facilitate easy EV charging.  

Designer Thomas Heatherwick, whose diverse back catalogue includes – along with the New Routemaster – the 2012 London Olympic Cauldron, the Garden Bridge concept and the distinctive Coal Drops Yard building in King’s Cross, hailed the Airo as “a car intended to transport us to a cleaner and better future”. 

He said: “Airo isn’t simply another electric car that doesn’t pollute the air. Instead, using the latest HEPA filter technology, it goes further by also vacuuming-up pollutants from other cars as it drives along. 

“Designed to simultaneously address the global space shortage, Airo is also a multi-functional room with extra space for dining, working, gaming or even sleeping.”