Students at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) unveiled the latest concept vehicle to emerge from the program’s Deep Orange series. Deep Orange is a framework within Clemson University’s Department of Automotive Engineering that immerses graduate students into the world of a future OEM and/or supplier. Working collaboratively, students, multi-disciplinary faculty, and participating industry partners focus on producing a new vehicle prototype each year.

The program’s latest concept, Deep Orange 7, is a re-envisioned MINI, one of BMW’s iconic brands. For the seventh generation of Deep Orange, students were challenged to reimagine a MINI vehicle for the premium U.S. market for 2025 and beyond. The students were also encouraged to maximize the use of interior space.

One of the ways the students achieved that goal was to engineer the vehicle with manufacturing in mind, which resulted in a modular architecture. Students explored the theoretical concept of assembling the vehicle from four large separate modules. According to a video from Clemson that provided a technical overview of the project, using composites facilitated that process.

“Part consolidation enabled by carbon fiber reinforced composites can dramatically reduce the number of parts and assembly steps in the body shop, aiding OEMs by reducing time, cost and floor space required,” the video explained.

The Deep Orange team is not new to use composites. Last year, Toyota teamed up with Clemson for Deep Orange 6. The students created the “uBox” – an urban utility, futuristic concept vehicle aimed at Generation Z buyers.

According to Dr. Johnell Brooks, associate professor of automotive engineering at Clemson University and project lead, the Deep Orange 7 concept was a “50/50 mix” of CFRP and aluminum by weight. Specifically, she says that the car’s pillars, quarter panels, front and rear bulkheads, floor, roof and front tub were made with CFRP. She singled out the single-piece composite bulkhead structure as particularly innovative. The rocker beams, crash rails, front and rear subframes and cross-car beams were made with aluminum. The CFRP parts were vacuum infused in-house by the students using CNC wood molds. Those parts, Brooks says, were bonded together using structural epoxy adhesives from 3M.

 “Working with the students as a mentor in the Deep Orange 7 project was a wonderful experience. They worked really hard and showed creativity and professionalism at the same time,” said Julian Weber, at that time head of Innovation Projects E-Mobility at BMW in Munich, Germany. “The resulting vehicle is a huge step forward and showcases very interesting solutions. My biggest question during the project was why a course like this wasn’t offered when I was a student.”