BMW has never built a production pickup truck, even if it's pulled the occasional April Fools prank with a pickup-bodied M3. But students from its U.S. design department and Clemson University in South Carolina have gotten close with their latest concept, BMW Deep Orange 4.

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Based on a BMW X3 crossover, Deep Orange 4 is transformed with an X4-style coupe roofline and once viewed from above or behind, a small pickup bed. It still seats four or five people, but aft of the rear seats is an open deck. Under normal driving conditions the deck is covered by a window and what appears to be a relatively normal tailgate, but press a button and the window retracts electrically into the roof, and the rear panel splits and opens in two sections.

You can then stow objects as you might with a regular pickup--albeit in a rather smaller space. Once loaded, the rear doors close again--albeit with the slightly uncomfortable motion of an incomplete prototype. The model is intended to target a niche market of customers who want to match normal BMW traits like performance and comfort with the greater flexibility of an open load space.

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Rich Morris, BMW Manufacturing’s vice president of assembly, says the project was designed to find ways of introducing low-volume niche models "without incurring capital-intensive retooling costs and efficiency losses." As the name suggests, it isn't the first time Clemson University has worked on a Deep Orange project. Its last vehicle, Deep Orange 3, was a blank-sheet take on a Mazda passenger vehicle aimed at 'Generation Y'. It featured a through-the-road parallel hybrid powertrain and styling influenced by Mazda's current KODO design language.