Photo: Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research

Eighteen engineering graduate students from Clemson University debuted a new Mini concept car, which they developed with help from the ArtCenter College of Design in California, at BMW’s U.S. manufacturing grounds in Greer, South Carolina on Saturday. Called the Deep Orange 7 Mini concept, here are all the weird design features this young team came up with.

Lots of engineering students get to work on cool car-related thesis projects (I myself helped develop a rear-wheel drive electric Jetta convertible), but not too many have the opportunity to collaborate with OEMs to create a concept car from the ground up.

Deep Orange 7, with its short overhangs and a reasonably spacious hatchback design, combined with what appears to be a carbon fiber and aluminum chassis, reminds me a lot of the BMW i3. (And that’s not a bad thing, as the i3's basic design may not be a bad guess at where Mini is headed in the future.)

The Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research’s Deep Orange program has worked with Mazda, BMW and Toyota over the years to give graduate students the chance to develop an automobile from the initial phase of establishing vehicle-level functional objectives, all the way to manufacturing. The latest development, Deep Orange 7, was all about coming up with the Mini of the future.

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Photo: Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research

The main objectives for the project involved targeting the “premium U.S. market for 2025 and beyond,” maximizing interior space, and creating a fun driving experience.

Though the team of 18 engineers wasn’t able to finish up the body panels, windows and upholstery in their two years as automotive engineering masters students (those finishing touches were done after the students graduated), they were able to come up with a few interesting features, which you can read about in Clemson’s press release. Those features include:

  • An innovative open design with a floating dashboard creates a single space throughout the entire vehicle, called MINI Open. The traditional hood is replaced with a windshield that reaches all the way to the front of the vehicle and is easily lifted. Occupants are provided with a unique wide-open view outwards.
  • This open design enables customers to see/share/store (SÂł) their prized items in the front of their vehicle as well as in the rear hatch. Items can be displayed or held securely with Origami Storage, a clever and customizable aftermarket solution.
  • A scalable powertrain provides the customer the choice of internal combustion engine, two plug-in hybrid options or a pure battery electric vehicle (BEV). The clever design means all four variants can be built on the same vehicle platform. The concept vehicle includes one of the two hybrid options, which was the most challenging to build.
  • For the hybrid and BEV variants, electric motor cooling elements are functionally integrated inside the vehicle’s rocker panel, eliminating the need for conventional radiators and giving easy access to the front storage space. Rocker cooling takes advantage of otherwise unused space.

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Other clever design solutions include a modular architecture broken up into front, center and rear “modules,” and a Mini Parking Marshal feature that helps drivers in other cars park as close to the Mini as possible without scraping the bumper.

It’s a tall order to ask 18 students to not just figure out what the car needs to be, but also to design it, manufacture the parts, and assemble it—all in a span of two years. What they came up with in that limited timespan obviously would have some issues in terms of production feasibility, but as a concept car, it definitely looks the part.

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And as an exercise that taught the engineers how to come up with functional objectives, how to collaborate with suppliers to design parts, how to manufacture and assemble it all, and also how to work with (read: argue with) designers over styling versus engineering optimization, I wouldn’t be surprised if the project left these students with a flood of job offers from major OEMs.

Photo: Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research