Tata Pixel : The real successor to Sir Alec Issigonis’ original Mini?

Clive Goldthorp

Tata Pixel
Tata Pixel

Autocar’s Editor, Chas Hallett, recently reported on a conversation with the BMW Group’s Head of Sales and Marketing, Ian Robertson, about the prospects of the MINI Rocketman Concept, which was revealed at the Geneva Motor Show, reaching production.

Robertson gave ‘clear indications that the MINI Rocketman could make production and gives hints towards other future MINIs.’ He said: ‘We are good at looking at history and interpreting a future for it’ and pointed out that most MINI concept cars do eventually end up in the showroom.

However, that surely begs this question: are the BMW Group ‘good at looking at history and interpreting a future for it’? Alternatively, and more specifically, can the Rocketman Concept justifiably be described as a ‘mini-MINI’? Well, given that any production version’s dimensions are likely to be pretty close to those of the concept’s which are L: 3419mm, W: 1907mm and H: 1398mm or about 304mm shorter than the current MINI Hatch, that seems to be a legitimate claim.

Sir Alec Issigonis might, though, have disagreed with such an assertion – his original 1959 Mini measured just 3.05m (a tad over ten feet) in length or around 365mm shorter still than the MINI Rocketman Concept. Ironically, there was another new concept car on display at the Geneva Motor Show which has a near to 3.0m footprint just like the Issigonis-designed Mini’s: the Tata Pixel.

Tata Motors Limited has a long history of exhibiting concept cars at the Geneva Motor Show but the Pixel will, in retrospect, probably come to be regarded as the most innovative and significant yet. The Pixel shares the Tata Nano’s platform and so has a rear engine – ‘the best package for a city car’ according to the company’s British-born Head of Advanced and Product Engineering, Dr. Tim Leverton – and can accommodate four adults. Indeed, Tata Motors makes the bold claim that the Pixel ‘is the most package efficient four-seater in the world.’

The design, which was done at Tata Motors’ Design Centre in Italy, incorporates two scissor doors and a large glass area which includes a panoramic roof. The Pixel has a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder turbodiesel engine, low-resistance tyres, stop-start technology and what the company refers to as ‘intelligent battery charging.’ The Pixel returns a claimed 83mpg and produces CO2 emissions of just 89g/km.

Many Automotive Industry pundits seem to think that the Pixel’s most innovative engineering feature will turn out to be the car’s ‘Zero Turn’ toroidal traction-drive Infinitely Variable Transmission (IVT), which assists rotation of the outer rear wheel forwards and the inner rear wheel backwards, while the front wheels turn at acute angles so giving the Pixel a turning circle radius of just 2.6 metres. This IVT has been developed by UK-based supplier Torotrak plc. AROnline readers can see how ‘Zero Turn’ works by watching the video clip below – the fun starts at about 1min 30secs!

The Pixel’s interior features My Tata Connect which integrates the driver’s smartphone with the car’s infotainment systems so enabling owners to control their mobile and use apps to access their music collection or navigation on the move.

AROnline’s research suggests that the final, market-ready Pixel should arrive in European showrooms during 2012 and be available in either two-door, short-wheelbase or four-door, long-wheelbase form – the scissor doors, though, are unlikely to survive into production. Interestingly, that rear-engined two-door, short-wheelbase or four-door, long-wheelbase format has echoes of the Oliver Le Grice-designed Mini Spiritual and Spiritual Too Concepts which were exhibited at the Geneva Motor Show back in 1997…

Anyway, to conclude, here are two questions for readers to consider:- 1) given BMW Group Board Member Ian Robertson’s remark about the company being ‘good at looking at history and interpreting a future for it,’ which do you think more accurately captures the spirit of the original Mini – the MINI Rocketman Concept or the Tata Pixel Concept? 2) which of those two concepts do you reckon Sir Alec Issigonis would have favoured?

[Editor’s Note: Incidentally, each member of Autocar’s Editorial Team has selected a ‘Star of the Show’ in this week’s post-Geneva issue – Editor Hallett picked the Pixel…]

Clive Goldthorp


  1. Actually, on another Tata stand, it may have been suggested the Nano would be coming to Europe soon – is this Nano2?

    Oh, and as for Al the Greek’s view, I think the Rocketman would disgust him – in the metal it is an ill-styled Toyota iQ “Streetwise” (and let it be noted I am a MINI fan). I think Uncle Alec would be happy with a Fiat Panda…

  2. I think anyone who claims the, ahem, Rocketman is a spiritual successor to the Mini is completely missing the point. It may be small(ish) but what was special about the Mini was not just its size, but its extremely efficient use of space.

    This Tata is, on that basis, far more in keeping with the original Mini concept. It’s a pretty horrible looking thing though.

  3. The Pixel’s a very nice piece of design and engineering and, Clive, I think you know the answers to your questions! MINI derivatives are merely fashion items (icons?) by comparison. The Pixel is also very Spiritual!

    Tata is becoming a very interesting engineer and designer of cars – it’s hard to imagine the Nano being designed by any company that currently sells cars in Europe. Like the 1959 Mini, it,s designed to meet the needs of its home market very precisely but, like the Mini, it will be very saleable elsewhere because of the emerging economic and environmental conditions.

    The Pixel is fascinating – of course, it’s important to look beyond the showcar doors and ask whether the high tech smartphone and parking stuff will make production. How big will the boot be with an engine underneath it, what will the build quality be like, etc and how they will price it?

    The Pixel must, if priced to undercut the competition (given that the workforce building it will be cheap, it should be priced competitively), have a chance in Europe. The concept certainly offers something different as a showcar but, as a car to sell to real customers, there are a few tests for the Pixel to pass.

  4. I don’t think a few millimetres one way or the other really bother most small new car buyers that much when deciding what to buy…

    However, what BMW have proved for sure (along with Rover’s original engineering input on the R50 MINI) is that current day MINI buyers want a Mini which handles and steers as well as the original and looks like a modern interpretation of the classic Mini and not like just another variation on the Citroen C1/Peugeot 107/Toyota Aygo theme.

  5. The really clever thing about the Pixel is the Infinitely Variable Transmission (IVT), developed by Torotrak and which I know for a fact can be scaled to fit anything from a lawnmower to an HGV.

  6. I love the Pixel. It’s great looking, a wonderful solution for the urban drive – and I almost never praise anything foreign, but this I love!

    Hopefully, if the Pixel ever reaches the for European and North American markets, it will keep every gizmo it displays here. There will be enough buyers for this ultimate small car, in its fullest techno package, regardless of cost – just look at Morgan’s 3-Wheeler to see how money can BURN. The doors must stay, though.

    Small, highly profitable Western sales would ice the cake for Tata’s worldwide sales of this car. Issigonis? He’d hate it, but this is good for today.

  7. The Pixel Concept looks really cute but I’m not at all sure about those doors. Yes, looks are important but what really impressed me were the suggested mpg and CO2 figures.

    However, if – and it is quite a big if – these figures are replicated in real world driving, then it seems to me Tata are on to a deserved winner. I guess there will be quite a few other manufacturers of small(er) cars beating a path to Torotrak’s door to get their hands on the IVT transmission and Zero Turn parking technology.

    It’s good to see that Britain has made quite a contribution to this concept car. Production ASAP please!

  8. Well, from the coverage I’ve seen from Geneva, I think that the Tata Pixel was probably the best concept there – I was almost disappointed that it wasn’t electric! It was woefully under-reported, though.

    Alfa’s 4C didn’t grab me as perhaps it should for some reason. Is it a tad derivative? Is the styling ulimately unresolved (that nose, for example)? It had everything to shake you senseless and scream ‘desire me!’, and yet it somehow doesn’t. I think I’d rather have an Elise.

    Oh, and the Bertone B99? After the huge visual strides made by Jaguar with the XF and the XJ, it struck me as queasily retro. Sorry.

  9. I believe that, with 83mpg, this diesel with an IVT transmission will be better than an electric car as its economy and environmental credentials will be superior from “well to road”. Remember electricity needs to come from somewhere and, even if it is solar or wind, the environmental impact on supplying and maintaining these are high.

    Batteries for electric cars are expensive to replace (often half the price of the car) and also toxic to the environment, with decreasing performance throughout their life… With a fuel tank holding only, say, 15 litres (I don’t know what it really holds) it could travel 250 miles between quick re-fuelings, whereas an electric car, if you can find somewhere to plug it in long enough, wouldn’t do a fraction of this.

    It is the revolutionary IVT transmission which makes a diesel viable in such a car and so efficient and, in twin drive form, allows for the rear wheels to be driven in two directions and make those “zero turns.”

    This is truly revolutionary – the concept has many more potential applications than just this little city car.

  10. It is interesting that, with this transmission technology, we’ve gone full circle to embrace the benefits of twin CVTs as espoused by the original DAFs. There are, of course, many more benefits than just the parking trick.

    However, what is somewhat depressing is that the Torotrak transmission has been in development, within BL and outside, for over 30 years before actually making it into a production car. That is hardly a ringing endorsement of the Automotive Industry’s take-up of new technology, any more than it presents a compelling testimony to the benefits of being an investor in such technology companies!

  11. The Pixel looks to be an excellent example of neat packaging. Just like a multi-storey car park… It is a shame you will not be able to open the door should you choose to park in one!

  12. Hmm, that’s a good point about the height restrictions in car parks… and domestic garages. I hadn’t thought of that. Actually, I suppose that, in a high wind, it’d be a bit of a strain on hinges too. Maybe a slider would do.

    I love the stuff about the transmission being in development for 30 years but since when was the Automotive Industry truly innovative? A follower rather than leader of necessity, I think. My experience leads me to think that most BIG businesses are similarly conservative.

  13. The Pixel’s technology looks very interesting, but the exterior design leaves me cold. I am waiting to see if the VW Up! and mini MINI are better in this respect and can still crack 90 plus mpg.

  14. @Wilko
    I think that the Rocketman is more attuned to European tastes and, from that perspective, I therefore think it is not just the spiritual successor of the old Mini, but that it is far superior to Tata Motors’ product.

    BMW have transformed a brand associated with an iconic but deeply flawed car into a world-beater – if only BLMC had the vision of BMW, then they would have retained the custodianship of the brand.

    I see the Tata Pixel as more of a rival to Korean cars like the Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto but, having said that, it is great to see such innovation in a small car package.

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