Audi is developing a “revolutionary” new version of its pioneering but defunct A2 model that would allow drivers to download mobile phone-like “apps” to customise the car’s interior, features and driving style.

The car, in addition to its downloadable features, would be electric-powered, ultra-lightweight and designed for use in “megacities” with populations of 5m to 10m or more, a senior executive at the German carmaker told the Financial Times.

The new A2 would come in a basic version that could be personalised by downloading software that would activate such features as heated seats, customised navigation or stiffer suspension.

“You could adapt it exactly to your needs,” Peter Schwarzenbauer, Audi’s head of marketing and sales, said. “Like you do in your home, you could create your own world in your car.”

Audi has begun conducting consumer clinics in Tokyo, Shanghai, New York and Frankfurt to gauge potential demand for the model, which the carmaker, owned by Volkswagen, describes as “a futuristic interpretation of urban mobility”.

Audi itself might open its own “apps store”, allowing it to charge customers for the downloadable features. “This could be a huge additional source of income for car manufacturers,” Mr Schwarzenbauer said.

The use of downloadable applications could boost the car’s resale value by allowing new owners to create their own “bespoke” A2s. “You could redesign the car if you don’t like it,” he said.

Audi said it might build the new A2 using weight-saving materials, including magnesium, which it uses in its A8 model, and carbon fibre, used in its R8 Spyder and TT sports cars.

Audi launched the original A2 in 2000, but shelved the model in 2005 after selling just 176,000 units because of its unusual styling and a price seen as high for a car of its size. With its lightweight aluminium construction and innovative design, the car is now seen as having been ahead of its time.

Carmakers are scrambling to develop small models suitable for use in large cities – including in emerging markets – but are puzzling over how to make them profitably.

BMW recently announced plans to launch in 2013 a “Megacity” car, which will be battery-powered and built using carbon fibre.

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