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BMW’s GINA features fabric skin

Features | January 1, 2009 | By:

A car built by asking the question “How can a car be made?”

How would a car be made if you could separate the process from what you previously knew about how to make cars? That is the approach BMW Design Group took in the development of the GINA Light Visionary Model, a two-seater roadster that embodies BMW’s vision of tomorrow’s car.

GINA (Geometry and Function in “N” Adaptions), is an innovative concept intended to allow its designers maximum freedom and creativity in car design by challenging what is already established and in particular, focusing on how to increase the relationship between the car and driver. Currently, individual personalization in car design creates significant challenges in production. But what if there was no tooling because the car’s exterior is a fabric skin fitted to the chassis by specialized installers?

An essential principle of the GINA initiative is to integrate the potential of new materials and innovative construction into the creative process, thus challenging existing manufacturing methods. The flexible outer skin breaks new ground in automotive engineering and opens up possibilities for design, production and function.

The fabric is an industrially produced hybrid fabric made from a stabilizing mesh netting scrim and a polyurethane-coated spandex outer layer that is highly durable and extremely expansion resistant. By necessity, it is also both water repellant and resilient to high and low temperatures. The car body consists of only four elements; the car’s front and sides create one uninterrupted and seamless panel.

On the exterior, the seamless skin covers a flexible aluminum frame that can be adjusted with hydraulic controls to change the shape of the car’s substructure. For instance, when additional cooling air is required, the BMW kidney grille at the front of the car can be opened by adjusting the shape of the movable substructure. The outer skin will stretch and adapt to that change. Aesthetically, the extra tension in the fabric skin creates new character lines, adding to its sculpted look. Overall, the precision fit of the fabric and accurate attachment points create beautiful and reproducible lines and folds in the skin. Similarly, other functions are revealed only when needed. When the headlights are off, they are hidden behind the fabric. When turned on, the metal substructure adjusts, changing the contour of the front end of the car and the fabric opens up to reveal the double headlights.

Every detail of this car, inside and out, seems an elegant balance of form and function, an object of art. Today it sits in BMW’s Munich museum. Ideas from its development have already started to influence future production cars, providing insight into how the car of tomorrow might be made.

Jeremy Clark is a contributing editor for Fabric Architecture focusing on new materials and manufacturing. His review of the book Manufacturing Processes for Design Professionals appeared in the May/June 2008 issue.

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