Mini Rocketman concept (2011): a guided tour

Published: 07 March 2011

Anders Warming, Mini's new chief designer who took over from Gert Hildebrand in December 2010, spoke to CAR about the new Rocketman concept car at the 2011 Geneva motor show. Here's the Danish designer's guided tour to the Rocketman - and thoughts on Mini design in the future.

CAR: Mini Rocketman: tell us about the front view

Anders Warming: 'The front view of the car has to be instantly recognisable Mini, but it also has to have a face that really tells you that the brand is going to the future. That’s why we are emphasising the light rings around the headlamps: the icon of a Mini, but now with LEDs. So by daytime running lights and at night, you immediately see it’s a Mini.

'We have the hexagonal grille of course, but in this rendition it's in carbonfibre, as the message is lightweight and we also believe that it’s a different way of doing exterior trim. Chrome is one way to do it, but you can also do it in carbonfibre, and I believe it’s very, very valuable.'

What about the profile of the Mini Rocketman?

'The side view of the car – really this is the sum essence of the car. It's a shorter car than today’s [Mini hatchback] car on the road. The reason why we can shorten it is that we basically take one factor out of the car – it’s no longer a car that seats four people, it’s a 3+1. Meaning that the seating behind the driver is basically a compromised seating position and we can shorten the entire car.

'We believe that’s a very modern and ‘sign-of-the-times’ statement - its smaller footprint... The monocoque chassis is carbonfibre, expressing light weight, and that light weight is a message that I believe goes hand in hand with the wish for a Mini always to be the premium luxurious product. And I believe carbonfibre is such a beautiful, beautiful material and it fits the style of the car.

'The side view of course is also typical Mini, but with a feature that I am particularly happy with - the bulges over the front fender. They slightly go up so when you sit in the driver’s seat you see this very emotional front bonnet. Basically the emotion that you want sitting inside of a Mini, driving a Mini. Anyone who’s ever driven a Mini knows that it’s a blast to drive, and it should also look it, especially seeing the fenders through the front windscreen.'

We see you’ve gone for some extra definition over the wheelarches in the surfacing?

'This is a very new design feature to us, we emphasise the wheels in all four corners. I do believe that with this Mini we are still the champion of short overhangs, this is really what Minis are all about. And we emphasise it additionally with these added crisp lines outside of the spats. The spats are in carbonfibre, we have another line that you mentioned outside of that basically giving even more emphasis to the four wheels of the car. Something that optically also shortens the car. I think this is an important message.

'In the side view, you recognise the typical Mini silhouette and clean form language. The finish around the greenhouse, where the greenhouse is sitting on top, and of course the white roof, but now with a feature of a Union Jack illuminated. If you look closely, you see the cross members of the Union Jack becoming the structural message of the roof. And it gives a deeper meaning to the graphic of the Union Jack. You see these crossmembers meet in the middle. We have the hinge for the rear hatch, which I’ll show you in a second, here in the middle of the car.'

And inside the Mini Rocketman?

'One important message is how you open the doors. The doors have a double hinge. It's a very long door, meaning we need to have a double hinge for it to move forwards, so in tight urban environments you have an easier way of entering the car. The interior is typical Mini form language, focused on the central display, and also what we call the Drive Pod around the driver. That is adjustable as a whole unit, thus being a very clear continuation of what the Mini is, and what it’s always been about.' 

Is that a mock-up of a head-up display unit in front of the driver?

'Yeah, it’s a little head-up display. What we have is a little rocket, because of the theme ‘Rocketman’. But it should be a little bit cheeky, it should be a little bit more Mini-like, it shouldn’t be a regular head-up display. It’s a feature, it’s a little celebration of what the potential of the structure could be.

'This car is about minimalism, it’s about light weight. So we have a lot of carbonfibre as I mentioned – carbonfibre being lightweight. But we also have other messages, more of a sustainable nature. For example here we have the contrast between suede leather and paper – this is actually paper material [on the door trim]. So it has an opportunity to give a deeper meaning to what premium is for the future. It doesn’t always have to be leather. It could be leather, it could also be paper.

'Another paper feature is this folded, origami-style paper that goes all the way around the interior with our user-interface mood lighting. And that ties in to what you see in the central globe, and gives you all this indirect light. You also see all the paper inside here [points to the top of the doors, in the border between the window and inner windowsill, which features more of the honeycomb-style folded origami structure].'

It looks like you've tried to evoke the original Mini's exposed hinges on the doors?

'You’re absolutely right… the original exposed hinges. I’m a big fan of exposed mechanics. Really seeing the true meaning of mechanics. That’s why you see here [points to the opened dual-hinge mechanism], the hinge is exposed as a graphic message.'  

Talk us through the rear end of the Mini Rocketman 

'Where that exposure also happens at the rear of the car is with the tail-lights. The tail-lights are emphasised, they're off the body of the car. It’s not just a graphic integrated into the form, but a three-dimensional object. 

'But also here [at the rear of the car] we have a feature when we open it. On the side doors we say this is a special way of getting in the car; but in an urban environment loading this car – you need a special opening for the trunk. And that could be, in this case, a drawer. And this drawer is where you can put your things quickly, on-the-go, you put them in quickly and then you close it. Or, as you see with this [interior sliding divider wall] in between [to seal the interior of the car from the deployed drawer] you can actually, as we have here, have a snowboard – you can put it in here sticking out, basically like somewhere quickly on-the-go, mounted on the car.

'As you remember on the original Mini, the trunk lid folded back, and there was a swivel hinge on the licence plate that would then fold down so you could drive it open. This is also a solution where you would always see the licence plate in the rear view, obviously because you can also have the snowboards set in there.'

So you can basically have your active/outdoor things set on here, almost like a pick-up truck?

'Yes, but if you have to transport more, we can also open here in front of where you can see the Union Jack graphic. You can open the entire hatch, use it of course for very practical purposes as well.

'With the fourth seat behind the driver, we have a little backpack in here [which also acts as the backrest for the fourth seat], so you can quickly reach in and take it out to carry along.'

Is the fourth seat basically just a moulding in the carbonfibre tub? It’s really just for emergency use if you haven an extra person you need to carry?

'For now yes, it’s just carbonfibre, but you could always bring a little cushion and sit in the back. But it would compromise the seating position of the driver in the front.

'We come to the last point. Basically I’ve talked to you about the interior already but here we have the driver’s position, where we’re really focusing on the fun of driving a Mini. You sit well in the seat, you have a proper seating position and this is really a car that invites you to want to have it, and to really want to drive it.' 

You’ve used a decent sill cut-out there. Is that to aid entry and exit?

'We’ve actually cut-out the whole sill, for the reason that we have an integral carbonfibre chassis in this concept, which would allow us here to make way with the sill. And we also put [the lower sill integrated with the door’s lower edge] so it’s like the original Mini’s door bins. It used to be the sills, now it’s the door pocket and it’s a reminiscence of where we used to be.'

We're interested that you've returned to a very clearly defined floating roof on the Rockeman. It's very unlike the Countryman and Mini Coupe...

'It should be a purer interpretation. But there’s also more depth – you see here [at the rear of the roof] that the spoiler is now glass. So I think it’s also important to show this original, Mini roof is like a cap backwards effect but here it’s a little more original in the way it is shown. I believe it’s Mini-typical. Also you see we’re using a matte finish here on the roof. This is also something that’s new.

'OK, so that’s the car and a quick run-through!'

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