(This April 19 story was refiled to remove Breakingviews topic code)
By Norihiko Shirouzu
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Electric vehicle (EV) concepts shown in Shanghai this week, such as the Audi AI:me and Infiniti QX Inspiration, point to a future of living-room-like comfort in cars with flat floors and ample space for sofa-like bench seats.
In the design studies, automakers have taken advantage of the space freed up by the electric motor, which takes less room than the bulky internal combustion engine, cooling apparatus and complex transmission gears needed for gasoline cars.
As most batteries in an EV are laid out flat under the floor, the EVs shown in the Shanghai auto show, which started on Tuesday, also have more height and, in fact, many are sport-utility vehicles (SUVs).
Both the AI:me urban car and Infiniti's QX Inspiration SUV have flat floors, interiors large enough to accommodate what looks like a sofa in the back and more leg room and storage.
Because there is no tunnel, which often houses the drive shaft and exhaust apparatus in a gasoline car, running through the length of the EV cabin, the center of the rear seat "can become just as valuable" as the space on its sides, design chief for Nissan's premium brand Infiniti, Karim Habib, said.
That in turn points to the possibility of "a return of the bench seat" in the front and the rear - a throwback to American cars of a bygone era, Habib told Reuters.
The EV's flat and slightly elevated floor allows passengers to slide into it, Habib said. "You can kind of comfortably sit into it ... You can cross your legs, stretch your legs out," he added, referring to the QX Inspiration concept car.
Audi's AI:me offers what the company's China operations chief, Thomas Owsianski, described as "maximum space comfort" despite its smallish urban car profile.
"We are fundamentally changing the perception of a (urban) car, particularly car experience," Owsianski said in Shanghai on Monday. "The AI:me has very compact dimensions but ... it shows the urban mobility, especially premium mobility, doesn't need to feel small. Cars are becoming a living room space."
(Reporting By Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Himani Sarkar)