McLaren’s desire to build a small, stripped-out supercar, revealed to Autocar at the beginning of 2011, remains undimmed, if these design proposals are anything to go by.

Last year the British firm held a design competition that asked students on the Royal College of Art’s vehicle design course to imagine a minimalist McLaren supercar. The ‘Autopure’ competition was overseen by McLaren design boss Frank Stephenson, who has said previously that serious work on a completely re-imagined minimalist supercar could be undertaken before the end of the decade.

The brief asked students to take the McLaren ethos of “everything for a reason” and “considering social and environmental trends for future vehicles…imagine a small vehicle that encapsulates the brand”.

After presenting their work at the McLaren Technology Centre, five students had their proposals selected for the final competition. These proposals were then transformed into highly finished 3D models.

The winning design, selected by Stephenson, was by Teeravit Hanharutaivan. His MP4-S is a single-seater for “urban and track racing” use, built around a carbonfibre-reinforced plastic tub. His proposal is so stripped out that it doesn’t have a dashboard, using a head-up display instead.

Another of the finalists was Marianna Merenmies’ McLaren JetSet. Merenmies said her design centred on aerodynamic efficiency. “The challenge was to create a sustainable vehicle that would appeal to the high-end customers typical to McLaren cars,” she said.

The JetSet is “an ultra-light single-seater with extensive use of carbonfibre in the chassis, body and wheels” and is powered by an electric motor. Intended to sell for £50,000, it is 3.7m long and 1.03m high, with a proposed drag coefficient of 0.20.

Unlike most students, Merenmies has already worked professionally as a car designer. She joined Fuore Design in Barcelona in 2001 and was one of the designers of the Mitsubishi Pajero Evo concept. Then she moved to Volkswagen, where her proposal for the Up city car was one of four that made it through to the final design competition, which was judged by the VW board.

In early 2011 Stephenson revealed that McLaren bosses have planned a range of new models for between 2015 and 2020 and the company has employed a designer specifically to look at the future form of the supercar after that point. Stephenson said his vision of what might be called a kind of super-Ariel Atom would be ideal for a new generation of buyers brought up in the internet age, a generation that doesn’t necessarily associate physical size with prestige.

Stephenson said McLaren’s own concepts have explored “means of opening the body in a way that enhances the feeling of space inside, so you don’t feel hemmed in”. He also suggested that there is no need for a dashboard, with projections and holographs doing the same job.

The move to a smaller car with a smaller engine makes sense, Stephenson said. “It’s about making more of less. It’s our job to push automotive technology — to make the car safer, lighter, more powerful, more efficient, eco-friendly and more fun to drive.”