Engineers at BMW Group (Munich, Germany) recently unveiled a shape-shifting concept car that takes the use of lightweight materials to a whole new level. Instead of using traditional metal, aluminum or plastic composites, the skin of the vehicle is made from a stretchy fabric that forms a wide variety of convex and concave surfaces.

The GINA (Geometry and Functions In ‘N’ Adaptions) vehicle is built on the aluminum spaceframe chassis of a Z8 roadster. It uses virtually seamless fabric that stretches across a movable wire mesh substructure. Metal wires attach the fabric to the body panels, while electro-hydraulic servos stretch the fabric in different directions.

According to Christopher Bangle, the head of BMW’s design team, the GINA Light Visionary Model allows individual customer requirements to become an integral part of car development, while challenging traditional manufacturing processes and material concepts. “The GINA philosophy offers designers, as well as development and production specialists, an opportunity to challenge existing principles and conventional processes,” he points out.

“Solutions that will benefit the car of the future are examined without predefined rules and from as many perspectives as possible,” claims Bangle. “This also involves questioning what is believed to be set in stone. Does a car roof really have to rest on pillars and be bordered by windows? Do all functions have to be visible at all times, even when they are not needed? How many personalization options does my car offer? Are there any possible alternatives to the rigid body shell made of steel or plastic?”

Both the interior and exterior of the two-seat vehicle can morph into new shapes and designs. For instance, a flexible, Neoprene-covered instrument panel allows the driver to adapt the car’s appearance to suit his personal wishes. “In this application, the intelligent deployment of flexible material dispenses with the need for complex mechanical features,” says Bangle. “At the same time, the versatile appearance has a natural aesthetic appeal.”

Even the engine cover has been replaced by fabric. A graphical display panel provides information on the particular arrangement of the service functions, while integrated zippers facilitate easy, hands-on access to the filler caps of the cooling water and wiper water tanks. “A number of functions-cover, orientation and access to service points-are integrated into one component in a logical and attractive manner,” Bangle points out. “This deliberately minimalist approach to the deployment of components is an active contribution to the protection of resources.

“The search for new materials and production technologies favors solutions that work with less raw material and energy,” adds Bangle. “A minimalist approach to the use of components and production stages yields ecological and economic benefits. As part of our endeavor to create social sustainability, we are looking for production methods that rely on the expertise of highly qualified specialists instead of expensive manufacturing tools.”