Making a good thing better is hard enough, but making a small thing smaller may be even trickier. Mini invited us to see how they did both when yesterday in Milan they unveiled their new concept car Rocketman, a forward-thinking ride with features that suggest not just a future of more compact cars, but one that boldly uses materials, lighting and other features.
Lit entirely with LEDs, the all-glass roof (also embedded with LEDs) makes for a glittering look, accented by the carbon-fiber body, which also lends fuel-efficiency. Its diminutive size, measuring just over three meters and seating three, is geared for urban markets and, perhaps most impressively saves space with a sliding drawer-style trunk, that can be left open for toting snowboards or other bulky items. Hinged doors make squeezing into tight parking spaces easy and allow passengers to get in the reat seat without too much trouble.
We caught up with BMW design head Adrian van Hooydonk at dinner and learned all about the Rocketman's spirit animal, his predictions for car design's future and more.
Is there a danger of being too cute with Mini?
The lines are more crisp and taut on this concept, because we feel that a Mini should always be like a friend, let's say. But if it becomes too cute, than maybe people will see it like a toy, a teddy bear. Of course we like to appeal to young customers, but Mini traditionally is a car that appealed to people of all ages, cross-gender and all around the world.
The elements in this car, we believe are elements that could do that: keep Mini exciting, interesting fun, endearing, but also something to be reckoned with, also serious. Almost like a British bulldog—a small dog, but people take it seriously.
What are the challenges of designing small?
On a big car, it's easy to make things move, do a door opening or a trunk. On a small car, it's much, much harder. But exactly what Mini stands for, right from the very beginning, is being clever in a small space. And this car is full of ideas for a small space. The way the trunk opens, the original Mini had that too. In a tight parking spot, if a car is parked behind your Mini, you can still open this trunk and put your stuff in. Or the side doors, they have a double hinge that allows you to open the door, even when there's another car parked right next to you.
How much less room does the door need?
I would say one-third, if you have to put a number to it. The Mini has quite a long door, because it's a four-seater but a two-door car. If you open it with one hinge, you hit the other door and then you have to sort of squeeze in. With the Rocketman, we solved both issues. You can crawl in the back because the door's quite long, but you don't have to squeeze in through a narrow opening because of the double hinge.
That's actually why we called the car Rocketman. On the one hand, Rocketman sounds like a brave little guy—and Mini is that, a brave little guy. But this car to us is so full of ideas, that we thought it's rocket science by Mini. That's why we call it Rocketman.
How did you treat the interiors for this car?
Of course we are dealing with a small car, but as a designer you can do a lot to give the feeling or the sensation of more space. We did this in the Rocketman in the sense that there is no dashboard like we know it today.
The dashboard takes up a lot of space. In the old Mini there was only a steering wheel and one big dial, and that's what we've done in this Rocketman as well. But the steering wheel and the big round center dial have grown together into a structure. And then the rest of the dashboard is gone, you don't need it.