BMW tries its hand at British mod with electric scooter . . . and fails

Not your dad’s Vespa.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

BMW Mini Scooter E source BMW

So, BMW thinks it can follow in the iconic footsteps of the British mod movement, unveiling a "zero-emission" electric scooter at London Fashion Week. Sadly, what it's showed off is likely to prove about as popular with ageing mods as a kick in the head with a motorbike boot from a rival rocker. In other words, it may be adventurous, but it sure as hell isn't going to have any mods ditching their Vespas.

Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW Group designer, said the firm had a lot of fun designing the new Mini scooter, which is fair enough. But why the mod looks? "Mini does not have scooter heritage, but England does," he said. And this comes, after all, from the Mini design team. No scooter heritage? Ain't that the truth: what BMW unveiled is a poor representation of mod: "cod mod", you might say.

If anything, the mod references are too blatant. There's the obvious use of the Royal Air Force "target" logo. It will be interesting to see what the RAF thinks of this, as it has been known, quite rightly, to get pretty tetchy about that sort of thing. Especially, one would guess, when it's being used by a company that built military vehicles used in the war! There's also a Union Jack on the seat. Iconic, sure, but also a little ironic?

There's a fair amount of chrome, which van Hooydonk says is a carry-over from the early Mini but also brings to mind the arrays of chrome mirrors that adorned the real mod's typical scooter, as do the extra lights.

But there are problems. To start the scooter you don't simply turn a key: you dock your iPhone in an enclosed, transparent docking station and then an icon appears on the phone that is your starter button. Using an iPhone to start the thing and then deliver GPS? Not very mod. A bit Teddy Boy, perhaps.

And what about this little box under the handlebars that holds two teacups? You've got to be kidding me. Paul Weller types are about as likely to want to carry two teacups on their scoot as they are to ask David Cameron round for a brew. (I use the analogy wisely -- when Cameron told Radio 4 his favourite record was the Jam's "Eton Rifles", Weller retorted: "Which part of it didn't he get? It wasn't intended as a f****** jolly drinking song for the cadet corps.")

But there is a more fundamental problem with the Mini Scooter E's mod credentials. It's not just electric, it's also automatic. Sure, even mods move on, but turn up at a mod scooter rally today (yes, they still have them up and down the country) on an automatic scooter and everyone will look at you as if you just stepped off a piece of cheese. Your scooter absolutely must have manual gears if you are to be down with the mods. It should really be two-stroke, which is far more polluting even than a more recent four-stroke petrol engine, can you believe!

So while the Mini Scooter E may prove popular with youngsters who've listened to their dad's Who, Faces and Jam albums, it's not likely to prove a hit with the real mods: the dads themselves. They'll turn up on their manual, two-stroke Vespas and Lambrettas until they finally decide to hang up their Parkas.

Jason Stamper is NS technology correspondent and editor of Computer Business Review.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review