MINI Vision Urbanaut is a concept car very much of our moment in time when live events are simply not happening. So, why build a concept car for presentation in the real world if you can’t have 200 people milling around drinking wine and enjoying the canapés? Urbanaut is a concept vehicle that lives only in digital ether. Like all such what-if concept vehicles, Urbanaut allowed MINI’s cooped-up designers off the leash, escaping corporate caution and silos and the real-world limitations of crash regulations. Urbanaut let their imaginations run rampant.
Underneath the digital disguise, beyond the frivolity of colors and side-saddle seating and the potted plant, Urbanaut may be harbinger of a MINI monopod urban shuttlecraft built on dedicated MINI battery-electric components.
Place a micro-electric motor up front, a battery array encased in a carbon-fiber structural pack that adds rigidity while serving as part of the crash structure, taffy-pull the nose out a bit for frontal crash structure and Urbanaut is real.
Factor in extreme rear-wheel steering angles at low speeds, much more than the 2.5 degrees of rear counter-steer one finds in most cars, and a real-world MINI Urbanaut could nearly turn on its own axis, like a London taxi, quite a help in congested cities around the world.
Not possible? Think of the Japanese micro-microvans you’ve seen when traveling in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia. I have little doubt the Urbanaut designers had them in mind. When a full-scale American stands next to one, these vans not much bigger than refrigerator boxes seem toy-like, and amusing. When I lived in Japan, the young kids built these cars in typical California sport-compact fashion, with undercarriage lights and incredibly loud exhausts. They always made me smile, and they easily threaded down impossibly narrow alleyways.
With Urbanaut, instead of serving mom and pop businesses in Phuket, Bangkok or Jakarta, shuttling around spare parts, freshly caught sea food, or laundry, imagine BMW-MINI build and materials quality, high levels of refinement, and a tidy electric motor in a 4-seat pod that provides a soothing experience. Park it in the stubby sidewalk driveway of a swingin’ beach pad in Santa Monica, or the underground structure of a downtown LA loft, or with a tire checked against the steep curbing on Green Street in San Francisco. I’d love one at my beach pad on the Orange Coast “riviera.”