Daewoo Mirae

This will be more of a postmortem on the Daewoo Mirae than what you'd usually read here at #bcotd, for one important reason: I've had lots of help on this one. Sam Livingstone, now the head of Car Design Research sent me a note on this car—one that he helped work on back in 1999. With unprecedented documentation to draw from, and with the help of its exterior designer, Guy Colborne (now of track car purveyor Elemental Cars), providing sketches of the car in race trim yesterday, I think this will end up being the definitive article on the Mirae…

…believe me, I didn't expect to be writing so much about a Daewoo. But the more I read, the more compelling the car became: it's actually what would happen if you combined a Toyota MR2, Mazda RX-8 (where do you think they got its doors from?), and Hyundai Veloster. Let's begin with an extended quote from Sam:

"The Daewoo brand in the UK was a little different—the way the cars were sold was properly pioneering stuff (no dealerships being the central point, off-the-scale warranty at the time, etc.), and consequently became the fastest-growing car brand in a one-nation market on record I believe (we had 6% share whilst all other territories in Europe were sub 2%).  Probably not much of interest to the design story, but it remains a textbook case study and was much lauded in the day, won a ton of awards, etc.

"At the UK-based design centre we wanted a sports car for the whole show car drama, to showcase the new six cylinder engine (yes, a project instigated by the famous Dr. Ulrich Bez of Porsche and BMW fame then—and Aston subsequently), and as part of that engine’s mission to stand a little taller in the wider car market. Daewoo was a very young car company, but was a properly large Chaebol and I think reached the apparent status of 23rd largest company in the world for a brief (illusionary) time." 

Browsing the documents, I can see exactly what the Mirae was shooting for: the Toyota MR2. Well, a more practical version of the MR2. With that snappy, Dr. Ulrich Bez-designed mid-mounted six-cylinder engine, why not? (The motor did eventually make production in the Daewoo Magnus—known to you and I as both the Chevrolet Epica and Suzuki Verona).

Swelling from 350 in 1994 to more than 900 in 1999, the Daewoo Worthing Technical Centre was a state-of-the-art facility that contained just about everything needed to make great cars—the company had even bought an entire business park nearby to help with expansion.

And while we all know it went up in smoke, I think it’s important to note the ambition of both Daewoo and the designers of this car: it’s a seriously impressive concept—if a little dated these days due to a lack of LEDs on its nose.

If you can suffer through a bit of techno—and in some videos, Quentin Willson's narration—you'll quickly note something that sets the Mirae apart from other concepts: centre steering. That's right: with clever reconfigurable seats, the Mirae was able to suit both an enthusiastic driver and her family—something automakers have all but given up on.

One of my favourite features of the concept was the application of gesture control—a technology still in infancy—because it demonstrates a real attempt at reducing distractions while behind the wheel. This is before the wrath of smartphones, of course. Citroën PLR-style controls beside the main gauge cluster are also a nice touch.

The fancy controls weren't just fluff, though. From the release:

"It meets an obvious need. Over the years, a growing number of practical cars have evolved to embrace higher performance. Now the performance car has evolved to offer practicality without compromising driving excitement. 

"It is a practical, flat-floored, high-performance sports car that can carry two adults, all their skiing or snowboarding gear and enough luggage for a two-week holiday. Nor is it a strict two-seater: there's even enough space for a young family—parents and three under-fives—planning a long weekend away."

This design team foreshadowed vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG—a front-drive hatchback beefed-up with all-wheel-drive and lots of power to regain a shred of performance. The Mirae's approach was the opposite: take a mid-engined car and adapt it to the needs of a young family. I like that. One last note on the car's interior—and design process—from Sam:

"The designer of the interior, Paul Wraith, and I mapped out the interior layout(s) with tape on the floor of my Brighton apartment in the first instance, but he and Guy own the interior and exterior design respectively, with both working even then in a fluent mix of analogue (sketches and full-size tapes) and digital for a very fast development.  The three of us were still in our twenties then as was most of the design team—’twas a pretty fun place to be with a major churn of work (at the time we were perhaps the most productive car design studio in the world creating over 23 different vehicle designs in the three years I was there with a pint sized team) and a properly nice crowd all based on the southern coast of England…"

Like so many concepts and prototypes featured on #bcotd, however, the Mirae didn't stand a chance. With a hilariously overextended parent company and many of the Daewoo production cars designed by Giugiaro's ItalDesign, the team at the Worthing Technical Centre had little opportunity to see their ideas translate into reality.

Just be happy that the team behind this car has largely migrated to other design studios and consulting firms, and that many of the ideas in this car will live on.