Emotional design: Christopher Weil, head of exterior design at MINI, explains details of the MINI John Cooper Works GP Concept.

An icon, two characters

The one is all urban-electric, the other a real racer: MINI presents not one but two modern concept cars at the IAA. Thomas Wagner spoke to Christopher Weil, in charge of Exterior Design at MINI, about the “MINI Electric Concept” and the “MINI John Cooper Works GP Concept”.

Thomas Wagner: At this year’s IAA, you are presenting not just one but two concept cars. The future belongs to e-drives so you kick things off with the “MINI Electric Concept”. The first “Mini E” was launched in 2008, back then in order to test the electric drive under real conditions. Now the “MINI Electric Concept” uses a lot of technology from the BMW i. Do you above all want to show how an electrically-driven MINI differs in design from its siblings with combustion engines?

Christopher Weil: We seek with the “MINI Electric Concept” to show what urban electromobility can look like, because we believe that electromobility fits the marque superbly and that this aspect can also be very emotional. We want to convey the fun electromobility offers, that MINI specific go-cart feeling – another reason for the very warm and human aura.

Emotionality and driving fun are already the marque’s core?

Christopher Weil: That’s true. However, we do want to open another door and show what an electric MINI could look like. In fact, the MINI Electric Concept is not a firm indication of the mass-produced version announced to roll off the lines in 2019, but simply shows one possible design. We’re still in the midst of the development process for the series vehicle. 

Where did you start when it came to emphasizing the character of a thoroughbred electric MINI?

Christopher Weil: It was very important for us that the electric MINI can also immediately be identified as a MINI. We nevertheless wanted to modernize it. So we reduced the surface language, made the car’s design “cleaner”. The details are drawn somewhat more sharply and more graphically. We want, on the one hand, to show that a MINI can boast starker contrasts between the soft surfaces and the graphic elements. On the other, we are thus daring to give an outlook on how design can tackle the topic of electric drives”, for example with the hexagonal grille which is more focused as part of the surface, or the integration of the e-badge into the vehicle. The wheel rims likewise have a very poignant design and they too transpose the topic of electromobility into street life.

You know it is a MINI in the moment you see the car: The MINI Electric Concept.

You have opted for a very special graphic solution for the wheel rims. What was the foremost idea here?

Christopher Weil: We wanted to choose an iconography that was quite unlike what we all hitherto associate with the MINI. The wheel rim design remotely brings a British power socket to mind, meaning the layout of the slots in the socket. That was not the original intention, but forges a great link to the electric engine. In addition, with the vehicle we are emphasizing issues of efficiency and thus also the aerodynamics. Both the efficiency layer in the form of the winglets in the lower section of the vehicles and the sealed wheel rims optimize its aerodynamic properties. We feel that the topic of 3D printing is also of great importance, as it offers design opportunities that we did not have before. The closed surfaces of the wheel rims are, for example, created by inserts produced using a 3D printer. 

Would they have not been possible without the 3D printer?

Christopher Weil: The 3D printing technology allows us, on the one hand, to create geometric patterns that are executed with greater clarity and precision. On the other, they provide an opportunity for customization. Essentially, the clients can choose a pattern themselves.

What solutions make you especially proud? What detail in the study do you personally like best?

Christopher Weil: The wheel rims foster a really strong character, and I personally find them super! And I really like the headlamps and rear lights, too. The headlamps draw on the round element used hitherto, but interpret it in a different way, and thus lend the vehicle a new touch. The design of the rear lights also underlines the car’s strong character and create strong images. We tried to interpret the details with a view to “only MINI can do” – after all, only a British marque can use the Union Jack.

Rear view with character: The rear light design plays with the Union Jack.

The design of the rear lights is actually very subtle and refined: Initially, all you see are two arrows pointing to the middle of the car, and only if you align the two arrows in your mind do you get the Union Jack. Is that simply playful or are there real prospects of the mass-produced version having this feature?

Christopher Weil: We of course hope that such details will go into the series vehicle. But it’s early ays yet as we are still in the middle of the development work.

To return to the study details for a moment – a closed, concave grille, a clasp in a different color, new lighting design, sills and blades, special graphically designed wheel rims: Do such accents suffice to render a thoroughbred electric MINI unmistakable?

Christopher Weil: Electrifying an icon such as MINI is a major step into the future. No doubt there will be car concepts that go in completely new directions. I’m firmly convinced, however, that our clients look forward to an electric model that is unmistakably a MINI. MINI is a very modern marque with immense potential. The topic of electromobility simply fits MINI as an urban marque.

Do details such as the air vents in front and behind the wheel cases and the grid in the sills have a functional reason or are they purely design additions?

Christopher Weil: Both. The Air Breathers, for example, greatly improve the car’s aerodynamics and the slits in the sill area seek to show that this is all about cooling. Both are thus functional elements. By contrast, the yellow tone plays a design role. Electromobility is often presented in a very cool vein, often with blues. We deliberately chose yellow as it intimates vibrancy and a life-affirming mood.

Clear surface, sharp graphic design: fun and emotions are also guaranteed with electric drive.

Does the yellow have a name?

Christopher Weil: Yes, it’s called “Striking Yellow”. It’s bright and friendly like a moment of pure energy, as light and pleasant as a summer afternoon when the colors become milder and more beautiful. We wanted to emphasize the fun of driving and the emotionality through the colors.

As regards emotionality, this brings us to the second concept car you are presenting here, the “MINI John Cooper Works GP Concept”. It’s completely different, a real racer, stands for fascinating technology, uncompromising dynamism and the ultimate driving fun. Did you simply want to show what a MINI can be in terms of racing look and dynamics?

Christopher Weil: Yes, we wanted to highlight the marque’s core, innate after all in the classic Mini as a successful rally car. The MINI Electric Concept, which stands for efficient sportiness, presents the bright side of MINI, the MINI John Cooper Works GP Concept the dark side. 

And what makes the MINI John Cooper Works GP Concept so special?

Christopher Weil: Its sportiness. The vehicle is clearly inspired by the racing track, driven by a combustion engine. And the sound itself creates goose bumps. Here, the emotionality is quite unlike that of the MINI Electric Concept. Our goal was to design a gentleman’s racer and show the potential of the sub-marque John Cooper Works. We made use of all the key stimuli that play a role on the race track. Of course, aerodynamics takes pride of place, but so does the contrast of hard-edged surfaces and a somewhat soft basic shape. MINI is per se a unisex car, but presumably the MINI John Cooper Works GP Concept appeals more to the male soul.

Inspired by the racetrack, the MINI John CooperWorks GP Concept has become a real racer.

Don’t underestimate women.

Christopher Weil: (laughs) ...  MINI can simply serve a broad clientele. The marque has great sporting potential although Sir Alec Issigonis did not originally intend this to be the case. There are large fan communities for a John Cooper Works and a GP.

The John Cooper aficionados will no doubt love the GP Concept and probably all want simply to drive off in it. Is such a vehicle in line with the times, though?

Christopher Weil: Of course the IAA comes under the sign of the coming electromobility. Yet there’s space for quite different concepts, and I think it’s great that we’re showing both sides. Both are part of the MINI marque.

Does the MINI Electric Concept more strongly embody the future, and the MINI John Cooper Works GP Concept more the emotionality of driving?

Christopher Weil: No, I wouldn’t say that. They are simply two very different faces to emotionality. The focus is always on driving fun and joie de vivre, and we express that in both the concept cars. I could very well imagine that someone says: I want to have both. 

Gentleman-Racer: Gokart-Feeling in the interior of the MINI John Cooper Works GP Concept.