Aug 31, 2017 | By David

Will the future of cars be electric? Awareness of the very real, scientifically proven effects of fossil fuel consumption on climate change is putting increasing pressure on car manufacturers to look to alternative energy sources, with electricity being the main candidate. Beloved British car icon Mini recently unveiled its latest electric car concept, the Mini Electric Concept, which will be developed into a production model in 2019. Building the concept vehicle made use of another element that is guaranteed to play a major role in the future of the automotive industry – 3D printing technology.

The Mini Electric Concept is modelled after the classic Mini Cooper design, and the final production version will be the most fully-realized electric vehicle developed by the BMW-owned company, after a number of teases and toe-dips. Its first all-electric car for private users in everyday traffic conditions, the Mini E, was unveiled in 2008. This was part of a trial run of electricity-powered Minis, with around 600 of the vehicles entering service. Knowledge from this extensive field study was eventually incorporated into production of the BMW i3.

Earlier this year we saw the pocket-sized road stalwart’s first series-production model making use of electric power, with a plug-in hybrid drive system. It was called the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4. This emission-free car has proved popular among driving enthusiasts and casual observers alike. Future iterations of this electric Mini will now be grouped under the ‘Mini Electric’ banner, and the Mini Electric Concept is first in line for our environmentally-friendly automotive adulation. It’s a concept version of how the first all-electric series production model might look, and it’s an exciting new direction for the boxy British brand.

While the main concept and most details of the design resemble the classic Mini Cooper, there are some differences that make it stand out for reasons other than its pioneering power source, and the wheels are one of the main ones. They are dark, 19-inch wheels, with a similar shape to the older Mini JCW GP, their design taking a similar idea to the radiator grille’s accent bar and reinterpreting it in asymmetrical form.

3D printing technology has been used to alter the design of the wheels in some subtle but inspiring ways. They have 3D printed aerodynamic inlays, which echo the fibreglass structure of the air deflectors, and the recessed louvred surfaces in the simulated air intakes were also produced using a 3D printing method. These details give a lighter, more modern aesthetic character to the Mini Electric Concept, when compared to the venerable design of the Mini Cooper.

The use of 3D printing here by the diminutive driving mainstay really highlights the flexibility in design that the technology can bring, in terms of customizing already-existing features and easily achieving both style and functionality. Material costs are also a lot lower with the use of 3D printing, and prototyping can be sped up in a big way.

The improved design that is enabled by 3D printing also means that the car can make more efficient use of electricity. According to Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design, “aerodynamics and lightweight design aren’t just important in the world of motor sport; they are also essential factors for maximising electric range. The car’s surfaces have a sense of precision and contemporary clarity about them that lends added impact to the car’s efficient character.’’

It’s great to see 3D printing technology helping in this way to encourage the use of clean, renewable energy sources, as well as revitalizing a vehicular design classic.  The Mini Electric Concept is being showcased at this year’s IAA Cars show, which is being held in Frankfurt.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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