While each of these materials are in their own way unique, especially in terms of their durability and mass, they all share one thing in common: they are completely solid and for the most part inflexible. Certainly, when formed over the shell of an automobile to provide its skin there may be some temporary deformation, but in general cars do not exhibit any radical shape changing unless they impact another object like a light pole or shopping cart. BMW decided that while steel cars are cheap to produce and relatively strong, they were also boring and from this conclusion the BMW GINA concept car was developed in 2009.
The GINA, which stands for Geometry and functions In ‘N’ Adaptions, is a roadster bearing roughly the same proportions and exterior look as the current BMW Z4. However, what is most striking about the GINA is not its overall shape but the fact that it forgoes traditional coach building and has its body formed out of a man made fabric. Not only does this special fabric stretch over the entirety of the vehicle, but it can also be made to expand and retract to allow for access to the engine bay or cover the headlights when not in use. Ultimately, the shape shifting properties of BMW’s fabric design could lead to an automobile which can assume whatever form – within limits – that the owner desires, creating a whole new type of vehicle customization right out of the box.
Another intriguing aspect of the fabric is its flexibility. When the roadster’s doors open, for example, their exterior skin wrinkles much like a shirt which has been dropped to the floor. This leads to questions regarding how strong the skin really is, how it would perform in an accident situation, and whether it would lose its elasticity over the long haul. BMW has assured the public that neither temperature nor the constant movement of the automobile’s chassis during regular driving have any effect on the resiliency of the fabric.
While the GINA might indeed be eye-catching, it is unlikely that fabric cars will be hitting the streets anytime soon. However, it is always fascinating when engineers and designers look past the status quo and conjure up automobiles which evoke a sense of wonder and awe thanks to their off-the-wall attributes.