A successor to the funky urban MP-SUV known as the Toyota uBox, the all-new Deep Orange 7 Mini concept is the latest vehicle project out of the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR). Students of the center's Deep Orange master's program have put their burgeoning know-how to use imagining what the Mini of 2025 and beyond might look like. The cozy two-door features a flexible powertrain configuration, open interior layout, appearance-shifting digital paint and a few other innovations that may one day show up on Minis and cars of all sizes and badges.
Mini has been quite focused on the future lately, previewing its first all-electric production car and showing what a Mini of the more distant future might look like. At the same time, CU-ICAR students have been coming up with an outsider's look at the future Mini. They began work on the functional Mini concept in 2014, after BMW Group became the official sponsor of the seventh Deep Orange build. The mission was to bring to life a future US-market Mini offering a spacious interior and fun driving experience. CU-ICAR students collaborated on the styling with students from California's ArtCenter College of Design.
The Deep Orange 7 Mini features a two-door, two-row layout. The design team has used a number of strategies to maximize interior space, creating what it calls the Mini Open interior concept. The simple interior includes a floating dashboard hovering over top the footwells and the front storage area accessed by the lift-up windshield. The hood has been shaved away to make room for that windshield, which extends right to the nose, adding to the interior spaciousness while also creating a more seamless connection between inside and out.
The front trunk gives drivers and passengers a way of showcasing items of importance to them – kind of an odd idea, but probably not all that crazy given the materialistic, social media-oversharing, selfie-snapping, "look at me" direction modern society continues to move in.
The open interior layout is supported by a modular architecture designed around a scalable powertrain. Given the compact, hood-less design, you might suspect this concept Mini is an all-electric car, and a battery-electric system is indeed one of the powertrain configurations CU-ICAR students have in mind. But the car can also accommodate one of two individual plug-in hybrid layouts or an internal combustion engine. The ICE is mounted at the rear, and the fuel tanks and/or battery packs mounted in a purpose-designed compartment below the passenger cell. "Rocker coolers" integrated into the side sills save space while keeping the electric and plug-in hybrid drives cool.
It sounds like the students are hedging their bets on the dominant powertrain solution of 2025, or maybe thinking that the market will be a wide open field with car buyers demanding a variety of options. The working concept car is powered with one of the plug-in hybrid set-ups.
Of course, any car of 2025 is going to have some technological solutions unfamiliar to us today, and while this Mini is a human-driven car without emphasis on automated technology, it does have some forward-looking innovations of its own. The designers imagine a futuristic digital paint being used to immediately change the car's appearance, letting the car darken for privacy or change color based on the driver's mood.
The dashboard includes a holographic display with "Mini Face," a digital assistant that anticipates and reacts to the needs of the driver, who interacts using voice and gesture controls. There's also an outward-facing display in front that greets the driver and shows other relevant information.
Modern-day luxury cars continue to incorporate advancing self-parking technologies, and the Deep Orange 7 Mini showcases a different style of parking assistance. The Parking Marshal concept acts like a digital version of the orange-vested parking attendant, using front and rear lights to guide other vehicles into the parking spaces in front of and behind the Mini, ensuring that those cars park at an appropriate distance that minimizes the chance of damage and maintains owner access to the Mini's front and rear lift-gates.
The Deep Orange team revealed the 7 Mini concept at BMW Zentrum in Greer, South Carolina earlier this month. You can learn more about the powertrain packaging and space-saving innovations in the short video below.
Source: Clemson University