For some reason, BMW never made a van. It is unknown why. There certainly was a market for it. VW, Audi and even Mercedes made their own van models. But for some reason BMW never did make a van. They certainly do make big cars. They make sedans, coupes and even sports activity vehicles that are quite spacious but could not properly be called a van. BMW got their start building airplane engines in World War I, so they are certainly no stranger to going big. So why no van?
Not Their Style
It is possible that for the longest time BMW thought vans were simply beneath them. The soccer mom and the music festival bound hippies just weren't the kind of people BMW wanted to market to. They are willing to market to upperclass hunters, hikers and surfers who need a good deal of room for their equipment.
How About a Minivan?
A minivan is certainly much more convenient when it comes to entry with the slower, sliding doors. It has a decent amount of space as it seats seven or eight. If the seat are removed you could even put in a good-size couch. Where visibility is concerned, the minivan just can't be beat. And there is a demand for it. The sales numbers in the USA very clearly display a distinct minivan market. However, it seems a lot of premium brands such as BMW were just not going to present a supply to meet the demand.
Having a BMW is a bit of a status symbol. The Ultimate Driving Machine, as BMW touts themselves, has incredible torque and horsepower. Some of their models can do zero to sixty in less than five seconds. BMW cars are known for being very cleanly built, with no excess parts that shake or rattle. Everything feels tight, but in a secure way rather than a confining way. It's all the little details that go into making the BMW what it is. While the engine is pretty sweet, BMW does not end and begin there. The dasboard controls, the steering wheel, the seats and everything down to the doors make the BMW what it is.
Would BMW Be Interested in Making a Van?
The tide is turning for BMW. They are seriously thinking of creating a van that meets the demand of a big vehicle that is still environmentally friendly as well as user friendly. The van of the future would be electrically propelled and have autonomous driving capability. All of these traits could be found in the concept presently called the MINI Vision Urbanaut.
What Does BMW Have to Say About This New Concept?
Here's the official word from BMW: “Having been conceived from the outset as an electrically powered vehicle with automated driving functions, the MINI Vision Urbanaut has afforded the designers a greater level of freedom when creating both the exterior and interior.” The concept art looks an aphid on wheels, but the interior looks like the interior of a stretch limo, only more laid back.
What Does This Design Say?
Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design, has this to say of the MINI concept: “MINI sees its future self primarily as an enabler of and companion for unforgettable times – what we might call ‘MINI moments’. The MINI Vision Urbanaut uses three curated MINI moments – “Chill”, “Wanderlust” and “Vibe” – to present a wide range of possible usage scenarios. The Chill moment invites you to catch a breath and pause in the here and now. The car becomes a kind of retreat, a haven where you can relax – or work with full concentration – during a journey. Wanderlust is the only MINI moment where the MINI Vision Urbanaut is being driven or driving with automated driving functions. The moment Vibe puts time with other people at center stage – in every way." This is a car that is meant to be relaxed in while still having all the quality expected from a luxury brand such as BMW.
It's All About That Space
The reason anyone would want a van is for more space. The MINI Vision Urbanaut was designed to provide ample space. Like an igloo, the interior was built up before any concept of the exterior. (This may explain its mildly dome like design.) Over the length of this project, augmented reality was used to make a digital model. Said digital model was then systematically optimized. This unique design is particularly tall for a MINI though it is a little less than four and a half meters in length. The MINI Vision Urbanaut offers an interior space that can be employed in a myriad of different ways, thus providing an entirely innovative simplicity of movement while one is inside the car.
What Can You Do With All That Space?
With all this extra space plus various swivel mechanisms, this van could be like a little house. The MINI Vision Urbanaut could be used for glamping; the adventure of camping but with the glamor of luxury. The interior of this vehicle can easily be converted into a small living room. The exceedingly flexible four-seat layout delivers the base for a bright interior. The two front seats are are made so that they can rotate freely. Meanwhile, the backrests for the amply sized seat surface in the back may be folded by hand (left rear seat) and rotated about (right rear seat). When the car is staying in just one place for a while, the dashboard can be lowered and the driver’s area becomes quite the comfortable seating corner, much like a daybed. Additionally to this whole set up, the windscreen can be opened upwards when standing still to make a sort of street balcony.
Is BMW finally ready after all these years to build a van that is not only luxurious but ecologically sound? There is a market that is certainly ready for it. If BMW goes through with their plan with the tentatively named MINI Vision Urbanaut it could start a whole new chapter for BMW as a company. Only time will tell if the MINI Vision Urbanaut will over get off the virtual drawing board but if the dream becomes a reality there will certainly be a plethora of people willing to live this dream.
Written by Benjamin Smith
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