The MINI Urbanaught concept released last year was a shocking new take on the brand and also the idea of a car concept itself. Beyond the fact that it was essentially a small van (or MPV), it was also entirely virtual. That means the concept itself was never a physical object and existed only on screens. Until now.
Today MINI is taking the wraps off of the physical version of the concept that pushed the brand into a very new space. While MINI is officially not suggesting they will build it as we see, the concept does test various ideas that MINI wants to bring to market. Specifically this physical model gives us a much better look at the details of the design and the materials that make it up. Quite helpful given MINIs goal of eliminating leather and rethinking how an interior is designed.
It’s also worth noting that the design language of the Urbanaut has its origins (at least conceptually) in the 1959 Mini. More specifically the simplicity and minimalism we see here was inspired by the brand’s past. To us it feels both modern and inline with where the brand started over 60 years ago.
Yet many since its debut many just see a small van. Or in other terms of modern version of a VW Bus. That’s not by accident. MINI sees trends and data pointing to the potential resurgence of MVPs (as their called in Europe) having a comeback towards the end of the decade.
But in our conversation at the debut of the Urbanaut last fall, Oliver Heilmer was quick to point out that the concept is dramatically different than the classic MVP. He wanted to create something that was entirely variable depending on the situation and environment. A concept that could seamlessly blend into the owners life far more than a car (which is parked the majority of the time) could ever integrate.
This is a room concept so it’s dramatically different from that. We’re talking about a multi-functional Swiss knife with the Urbanaut. You’re able to use it in different moments and transform it. So the approach is entirely different.Oliver Heilmer
Head of MINI Design
It’s hard to get past how uncool the MVP or classic minivan has become in most corners of the world. To that, MINI’s head Bernd Koerber had a very straightforward answer; “We won’t make a practical MPV if it’s not cool.” And he expects to see more concepts like this from other brands in the near future – which could in itself start to sway public towards the idea.
Design is all important to MINI. Sometimes it only takes second to review design. We ask ourselves; is it cool or not cool? So there will be that question. We won’t make a practical MVP if it’s not cool.Bernd Koerber
Head of MINI
Is the MINI Urbanaut successful? As an object of lust perhaps not. But has a concept that tests new ideas and breaks ground for the brand, considerate more of an object of curiosity. And those ideas are particularly relevant in a post COVID world. As the idea of work and living space blend, the MINI has envisioned a new space that offers more than just mobility but also safety and community.
Perhaps Head of MINI Bernd Koerber said it best when he described COVID’s impact on the MINI team: The last ten months has changed our minds on mobility. For all of us there was this feeling of, where can we find space where we feel safe in an urban environment. The Urbanaut is a concept informed by both these recent global events and trends that have been in the making for years.
Is it a MINI? Is the broad definition of how the original came to be, of course. It leverages its 4.46 meters in smart ways to create the maximum possible interior volume. It’s also an answer to a world in crisis not unlike the 1959 oil crisis. And it’s a radical departure from what came before it.
“At MINI we see it as our responsibility to preserve and develop the unique characteristics of our brand over the upcoming years and those further ahead,” explains Bernd Körber, Head of MINI. “With our eyes fixed on the future, we have developed an idea, with the MINI Vision Urbanaut, of how we can take the MINI attributes – as here, with the focus on the ‘Clever Use of Space’ – into the future of mobility and interpret them in a typically MINI way. It brings the user’s personal space into the car and opens up various possibilities for them, from creating an urban oasis to experiencing freedom in the ‘Wanderlust’ moment. The MINI Vision Urbanaut represents our image of how MINI’s ‘Clever Use of Space’ could provide an answer to the needs of future cities and lifestyles.”
Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design adds: “At MINI Design we believe that the best way to understand the overall concept behind the MINI Vision Urbanaut is to experience it. The feeling of space and the innovative materials are just asking to be explored. That is why it was very important for us from the outset to also make a physical model of the MINI Vision Urbanaut. And now that moment has come. We have planned and built every aspect of the model – which allows people to experience all of the facets of the MINI Vision Urbanaut – at our MINI Design Studio in Munich.“
Extending the idea of mobility beyond driving – the MINI moments.
MINI sees its future self primarily as an enabler of and companion for unforgettable times, this is what we’re calling “MINI moments”. Inspired by the question “What kind of experiences do I want to have with my vehicle?”, they provide the conceptual platform for the MINI Vision Urbanaut – for times when you’re travelling and others when you’re not. What this means more specifically is encapsulated by the MINI moments “Chill”, “Wanderlust” and “Vibe”. The exterior and interior of the vehicle change to reflect the MINI moment at hand and so give the on-board experience the best possible stage and environment. Fragrance, sound and ambient lighting continue to enrich the baseline mood initiated by the chosen MINI moment. The transformation of the vehicle through the different moments can now be experienced in reality with the physical model of the MINI Vision Urbanaut.
The Chill moment invites you to catch a breath and pause in the here and now. The car becomes a kind of retreat, a haven where you can relax or work with full concentration. While the rear seat bench (Cosy Corner) invites various seating and lying positions, the backlit Loop above it takes on an appearance inspired by a green forest canopy and can also be dimmed. In the central area, the circular instrument folds down to become a table lamp, eliminating displays or switches that might remind the customer of their automotive surroundings.
Wanderlust is the only MINI moment where the MINI Vision Urbanaut is being driven or driving with automated driving functions. In this moment, the interior becomes the ideal place for driving the car, or being its passenger, and enables those on board to rediscover the romance of travel. When the customer wants to drive themselves, a tap of a finger on the MINI logo brings out the steering wheel and pedals. The user interface on the central circular instrument also adapts its visuals; alongside an animation of the route, additional journey information – such as visitor attractions and arrival time – is displayed here for those on board.
The Vibe moment puts time with other people at centre stage – in every way. Opening the side door and folding up the windscreen creates a welcoming scene that blurs the boundaries between the outside and inside. The central circular instrument becomes a media control centre. An animation of graphic equalizers moving with the music is projected onto surfaces of the front, rear, wheels and Loop above the rear seat bench, creating a club atmosphere. If those on board so desire, the car can even begin to resemble a boombox. Finally, there is the fourth option, the customisable “my moment”, which provides users with further scope for tailoring the design of the vehicle to their needs and desires.
As well as its wide range of uses, the MINI Vision Urbanaut also focuses on sustainability – and this can be seen and experienced directly in various aspects of the vehicle. The starting point for the concept was the “Clever Use of Space” for which MINI is renowned; i.e. it offers maximum space on the smallest possible footprint. Although the MINI Vision Urbanaut is only 4.46m in length, its height allows it to provide an interior space that can be used in many different ways and offers a whole new ease of movement inside the car. The electric drive system ensures emission-free mobility, yet another aspect is the scope for using the vehicle for purposes beyond mobility. The MINI Vision Urbanaut also creates an urban space for people when it’s parked, significantly increasing the amount of time they will want to use the vehicle or just hang out in it.
The MINI Vision Urbanaut sets out to use resources responsibly. From the beginning of the concept phase the team focused on consistently reducing the number of components and avoiding unnecessary use of materials. This has been achieved by developments including clever dual-functionality for the dashboard (it can turn into a daybed) and the debut appearance of a circular OLED centre display – which recasts itself as a stylish lamp in the Chill moment – above the table. Maximising length of use by ensuring materials can be replaced is likewise a priority. Changeable covers are a good example of how this can be achieved. In addition, the interior has been created without the use of chrome or leather, an approach that will also be rolled out in the next MINI model generation.
High-quality and sustainable material innovations.
The interior of the MINI Vision Urbanaut features a high proportion of recycled materials and they are almost exclusively renewable and recyclable. Dominant in the interior are textiles made from recycled materials (including wool, polyester and Tencel) which blend cosiness and quality with softness and comfort. The designers also paid extra attention to solutions composed of a single type of material – known as “mono-materials”. These are easy to recycle further down the line and can be turned into new products. The use of renewable and recyclable cork on the steering wheel and sections of the floor adds a special touch thanks to its natural feel. The materials for the MINI Vision Urbanaut highlight the extremely high levels of visual and haptic quality that a sustainably designed interior can offer.
An experience for all the senses.
The MINI Vision Urbanaut covers all sensory angles in creating the perfect on-board experience. A key element of the interior design is therefore a carefully honed approach to fragrance and sound. “The holistic approach addressing all the senses creates a truly unique and unforgettable experience,” explains Annabell Coffinet, Fragrance Designer at the BMW Group. “A distinctive fragrance signature sticks in the mind and can remind you of a positive atmosphere and overall experience. In this way, we are creating another, very personal connection with particularly memorable times. We also wanted to link the MINI brand identity with a fragrance signature for the first time. This hint of something intangible, refreshing and unexpected brings emotion to how the brand’s message is communicated, a kind of highly recognisable international signature. It will be discreet and revealed as part of a welcome scenario.” Bringing balance to the sensory experience, Renzo Vitale, Creative Director Sound, gives the various textures of the welcome scenario fragrance a matching sound. Additionally, he composed the music for the Chill, Vibe and Wanderlust moments. In the Chill moment, the vehicle wraps the user in the subtle soundscapes of a forest, with rustling leaves and flowing water filling the interior – a fitting complement to the dimmable forest canopy effect. Acoustic sounds set the seal on the relaxation-rich experience. The Wanderlust and Vibe moments are accompanied by a soundtrack of specially composed music which can be played both inside and outside the vehicle.
Analogue love, digital connection
Another aim with the MINI moments was to use digital integration to intensify or enrich the analogue experience. This “analogue love, digital connection” approach runs throughout the vehicle. An additional digital level has been integrated below several of the analogue surfaces. Examples here include the table inside the vehicle (which initiates the MINI moments when the MINI Token is placed in one of the slots), the lamp with OLED display and the LED matrixes in the interior under a layer of textile or in the front and rear ends of the car. These areas of the vehicle bring together the analogue and digital worlds into a new and immersive experience.
Bringing together the BMW Group’s model-building expertise.
As an innovative space concept, the MINI Vision Urbanaut was designed from the inside out. The designers created the spacious interior experience before developing the exterior, using floor plans, pieces of furniture plus wooden scale models to provide an indication of size. Over the course of the project, augmented reality was employed to create a digital model, which was then systematically optimised. The physical model of the MINI Vision Urbanaut was then put together from start to finish at the MINI Design studio in Munich. Here, the BMW Group gathered all the expertise available to transform virtual visions into physical reality. Upholsterers, modellers, mechatronics engineers, programmers, paint specialists and others worked alongside the designers to turn a vision into a physical model of almost prototype quality. After all, the MINI Vision Urbanaut is not only a static model, it’s driveable too. Every part has been specially designed, precision-manufactured using cutting-edge tools and crafted by hand. The high degree of artistry inside the MINI Vision Urbanaut is highlighted by an interior design that is reminiscent of a modern living space. The construction of the model therefore extended from a classical vehicle build via furniture-making all the way to programming and smart high-tech integration.