Sometimes when a brand goes out and creates a concept vehicle, there’s only the loosest connection between the designer’s inspiration and the end result, and the brand needs a few hundred words worth of description to sell the project. For the Mini Strip, based on the Mini Cooper SE, it’s almost gloriously obvious: pop art for cars.
“Simplicity, transparency, and sustainability form the central themes of the design process,” Mini declared in the materials it sent out with these images of the electric hatch concept that is the result of a collaboration with designer Sir Paul Smith. Those are not abstract concepts, as this Mini is literally simplified in terms of components. A large part of it is transparent, and the recycled and renewable components directly address sustainability.
Like all art, the Strip might not work for everyone. But it takes skill to remove parts—there’s no paint, just a shot of clear coat on the bare sheetmetal!—and make a vehicle look more desirable. Given the newest Minis have bloated in both physical size and available creature comforts, the fact the company is exploring minimalism at all is heartening. It gives you a sense that somebody at the brand is a little self-conscious of the decidedly un-Mini vibe of late.
To an extent. This is a one-off and explicitly takes a non-automotive-design approach. Paul Smith has done many things, but the form of transportation he’s most into is the bicycle. The outsider approach pays some dividends. The exposed fasteners, highlighted brightly and placed prominently, and the slightly dingy-looking bare metal gives the exterior a bit of the futuristic distress we see in sci-fi—think Star Wars or Blade Runner. It’s as if a movie prop person was given a regular Mini Cooper SE and told, “make it look like something that was converted to EV around 2040.”
The unpainted plastics and 3D-printed trim give nice contrast and texture without looking cheap. But the controversial part is bound to be the extent to which you can see the Strip’s bare chassis, unclothed by trim panels. A glance from the top down through the recycled Perspex transparent roof shows off the bright blue roof structure, which recalls, in our minds, the line of transparent Casio G-Shock watches that have lately become fashionable.
The interior is far more dramatic than the exterior, with exposed wiring looms, bare metal, and lots and lots of sustainable cork. The material actually has a nice visual texture, but it’s busy, and everywhere. The dash is actually semi-transparent, with a smoked glass effect. It’s also very simple—there’s no infotainment or instrument display, merely a place to dock a smartphone. This actually may be the Strip’s weakest link, recalling the most abysmal app-based systems in low-end cars. There’s a role for smartphones to play, but this ain’t it.
The steering wheel is an overt nod to Smith’s bicycle fascination; wrapped like handlebars with grip tape. As in other places on the car, mesh covers the airbag so you can contemplate its explosive potential while driving. The seats are covered in a heavily textured textile with contrasting piping. It’s not as visually appealing as some of the textiles other British brands such as Land Rover are exploring, but at least it’s recyclable.
Mini will certainly not build a production car heavily inspired by this, but all luxury brands are interested in materials that communicate sustainability and environmental responsibility. Whether they deliver on that promise is another story. But don’t be surprised if some of the concepts explored here, like 3D-printed trim made out of recycled plastic, end up trickling into production cars.
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