This month Mini unveiled a physical version of their Vision Urbanaut concept at DLD Summer, a "digitalisation, science and culture" conference in Munich.
A sort of mood board on wheels, the Urbanaut is Mini Design Studio's take on "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," says Bernd Körber, Head of Mini.
It looks to me like they've tried to create an Instagrammable living room inside of a minivan, seeking to make it as un-car-like as possible; I imagine they're targeting the generation that is famously uninterested in automobiles.
"The car becomes a kind of retreat, a haven where you can relax or work with full concentration," the company writes. "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."
Tellingly, the company's statement says little about the driving experience, focusing primarily on the vehicle in its parked state. "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 pleasant club atmosphere. If those on board so desire, the car could even begin to resemble a boombox."
The steering wheel and pedals are also designed to retract, whether for reasons of autonomy or just to make you forget, when parked, that you're in a vehicle.
One thing I didn't realize is that parent company BMW Group has a Fragrance Designer who has been tasked with, well, crafting the car's smell:
"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 waft of something intangible, refreshing and unexpected brings emotion to how the brand's message is communicated, a kind of international signature with a high recognisability factor. It will be discreet and revealed as part of a welcome scenario."
If Mini's approach proves popular with buyers, I think the automotive future is going to be a little different from what I envisioned, with test drives doubling as sniff tests.