Update: ‘Canoo platform’ sub-section added to ‘Platform.’
The MINI Urbanaut virtual concept that debuted in November 2020 evolved into a life-size concept in summer 2021, marking a crucial step of progress towards the release of a MINI MPV. A firm possibility is that the final model becomes the modern-day MINI Traveller, as Autocar reported in 2019.
Video Source: YouTube/The Wheel Network
The MINI Design studio in Munich, Germany, created the physical model of the MINI Vision Urbanaut from start to finish. It is a driveable and steerable concept of “almost prototype quality,” says MINI.
Speaking to Autocar at the 2021 Munich Motor Show (IAA 2021), Oliver Heilmer, Head of Design, MINI, said that the decision-makers at BMW Group have understood the purpose of the MINI Urbanaut. The discussion about launching it is at the stage where the company needs to figure out how to make a production version.
Requiring a new platform and technologies like steer-by-wire, those that are new to the MINI brand, makes delivering this car a hard task. However, the team working on this project is firm on making it happen. The concept van will also influence the design of the next-gen MINI models, the British publication reported.
The unveiling of the MINI Vision Urbanaut has solidified the speculation that a modern-day Traveller is in the making. The concept sits on a skateboard chassis, the same type as the ‘Neue Klasse’ platform BMW Group announced at its annual press conference last year, as per the report. That, however, does not rule out the possibility of the MINI Traveller EV using a different technical solution.
MINI has suggested that it is considering offering this model in passenger and commercial versions, as per a report from WardsAuto. The passenger version may come in a three-row version with up to seven seats.
According to an Automobilwoche report published on July 31, 2022, another possibility is that the production MINI Urbanaut could be based on the Canoo (formerly Evelozcity)’s proprietary multi-purpose platform (MPP) architecture. We’re talking about a ready-to-commercialize skateboard chassis that integrates the motors, battery module, and other critical driving components. At Canoo, it will generate a similar passenger van called ‘Lifestyle Vehicle,’ a delivery van called ‘Multi-Purpose Delivery Vehicle (MPDV),’ and a pickup truck.
Former BMW i manager Ulrich Kranz, the co-founder of Canoo, has moved to Apple. Nearly a year before he left the startup, it is reported that the BMW Group was in talks with the company to collaborate on the Urbanaut. Internally called ‘MINI Spaceman,’ the Urbanaut is a design study without a platform.
Automobilwoche’s report suggests that the BMW iX1’s FAAR platform is a temporary solution, the upcoming Neue Klasse platform would be too expensive, and the upcoming dedicated EV platform co-developed by BMW Group and Great Wall Motor wouldn’t be suitable because of the size limitations. The German automaker doesn’t have the right base for the Urbanaut, and licensing it from Canoo could be the solution.
In addition to the technology, Canoo may manufacture the Urbanaut in the United States. The company plans to start EV production at its Mega Micro factory in Pryor, Oklahoma in Q4 2022 and at another plant located in Northwest Arkansas at a later stage.
The MINI Urbanaut concept features a highly futuristic design. The headlights and grille are positioned under a milled aluminum structure with slotted openings. They become visible only when switched on and can display multi-colored graphics. These features reflect MINI’s preparedness for the autonomous and highly digital future. The enclosed grille is in an octagonal shape, which is something new for a MINI. The connected taillights and their shape could also be seen on future MINIs. Some interior elements, like the trims, upholsteries, and/or colors could find their way into next-gen MINI models.
The MINI Vision Urbanaut is the perfect showcase for renewable materials. The study car’s interior eschews leather and chrome in favor of natural materials like cork, and the removable covers make use of a knitted textile.
MINI is also among the companies that will extensively use recycled materials in the interior of future vehicles. These materials are used in areas such as roof liner, upholstery, seats, floor mats, and floor coverings. One of MINI’s plans for the future includes using natural-fiber materials made from PET bottles, instead of leather. The fishing nets that are discarded are being recycled to create floor mats for future MINI cars.
Smaller than the VW ID. Buzz
The MINI Urbanaut may appear as a preview of a challenger to the VW ID. Buzz (VW Microbus/VW e-Bulli). However, it is much smaller than the VW van. While the British electric van concept is 4,460 mm or 175.6 inches long, the German model, based on the MEB-XL platform, is 4,712 mm or 185.5 inches long (and an even longer version is in the making).
The production MINI Vision Urbanaut is unlikely to arrive before 2025.
Featured image: BMW Group