BMW's stargazing has reached Mini, with the company unveiling its Vision Next 100 model in London. Joining siblings from BMW and Rolls-Royce, the future of Mini is designed to be fun, funky, and shared with strangers. Acknowledging that urban dwellers often don't need a car all the time, BMW sees the future of Mini as a communal vehicle.
Hopping on the DriveNow bandwagon - BMW's urban car rental service - the Mini slides into a future where cars drive themselves to you on demand, customise themselves to your requirements, and tootle off again when you're finished. It's all about digital, rather than physical, ownership.
It's an idealised vision of the future, where cars are rarely seen in cities, as roads are turned into communal gardens lined with open-air bistros, packed with urbanites sipping organic teas. Ok, we've ad-libbed that last part, but you get the idea.
It's all about you, and everyone else
This peaceful, sophisticated, car user is firmly in Mini's sights, with the car able to customise itself based on what you like. The example given by Mini revolves around a favourite artist, perhaps setting the car's colour hues to reflect that interest.
Personalisation, then, lies at the heart of this concept of a Mini for sharing. Personalisation that changes for each driver, because the car knows who you are, what you like, what you want and where you're going.
The idea is that you walk up to the car, it biometrically recognises who you are, it's then able to transform to your preferences. The Mini can beam a Hello message onto the pavement on your approach and thanks to a digital skin, can change the graphics on the exterior of the car.
But what's that about biometrics? When pushed on this aspect, Mini responded that because of the enhanced sensor systems that the Mini will use to enable autonomous driving - both with or without occupants - the car will be able to see and recognise you. It sounds fancy, perhaps a step beyond the necessary, when an app on your phone will do all that for you and provide that link to the car, and already does.
Reflected Mini design
There's one problem with offering a car that changes for each different occupant: you're limited by the physical vehicle. Although Mini showed off some fancy digital graphics (and we all know that the first graphic your typical man will bless the car with will be a phallus), the streets of the future may be awash with silver Minis, an orderly line of sentient urban transporters, lacking the Union Flags or racing stripes that gives the current Mini its character.
That might be the reason behind the glass front. With an electric powertrain in this autonomous car, there's nothing to stop you having a front view that's almost entirely unobstructed. While the wheel arches and roofline reflect those of the current Mini Hatch, the clear front lets you project personality onto the road, again expanding that individuality of your shared car.
That's unlikely to happen, however, running counter to the sort of privacy that people like. You'll be sitting in a city traffic jam, scratching yourself absent-mindedly, in full view of the rest of the world. Or, when you're zipping along a B road in John Cooper Works driving mode and you hit a low-flying pigeon, you'll spend the rest of the journey looking at its bloody innards.
With this being a concept, none of that really matters, because the glass front shows off the minimalist interior. With the dashboard reduced to a bar, and controls that you can slide out of the way to the middle of the car if you don't want to actually drive it, all the attention is on one thing: the Cooperizer.
A system of cylindrical dials sits in the centre of the car, a physical controller to alter, reflected on a larger rounded display sitting proudly like the main speedo in current Mini cars. In the centre of the controller is an "Inspire Me" button, for those who are sitting in their (rented) car, at a loss as to what to do with themselves.
A poke of the button, and the car's digital intelligence comes up with an idea, based on everything it knows about you already. In Mini's idealised future, you'll be off to a pop-up exhibition or artisan nut seller, but in all likelihood, it will drive you to Nando's.
The Cooperizer is an idea, a vague idea, about how you might change the character of the car, switching the colour ambience or the driving mode, but giving you something tangible to link you to the digital world.
Unlike the Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100 model unveiled today, the Mini remains very much about driving yourself. Mini said that the go-kart characteristics of this car are part of its DNA and central to the experience of digitally owning it.
Much as we've questioned some of the practicalities of this vision, we can't help liking the lines of this Mini. Put a little more privacy on the front, and we'd happily step between those clamshell doors and into the eco-friendly interior. Whether people will actually want to share cars as readily as Mini suggests, we're not so sure.
Iconic Impulses: The BMW Group Future Experience
BMW Group unveiled its first Vision Next 100 car in March in celebration of the centenary of the company. The UK is the home of two key BMW brands - Rolls-Royce and Mini - so presents the perfect place for the future vision of these two brands.
BMW's future experience is presented at the Roundhouse in Camden, London, between 16-26 June 2016 and is open to the public. The exhibition, called Iconic Impulses, is a roadshow that's showing the future of motoring for the company, across the BMW, Rolls-Royce and Mini brands.
The next stop on the tour is Los Angeles, 11-16 October 2016, where BMW will unveil a fourth and final car - BMW Motorrad.