Mini plots radical new-look line-up but familiar hatch

Chief design officer talks about a new approach to expanding the model range.

Mini is close to approving the design of its next generation models. These will include smaller, more powerful models that use a combination of petrol and electricity.

Autocar spoke to Oliver Heilmer, Design boss at the Munich motor show. He promised an evolution of style for the iconic three-door hatchback. But more radical designs are in the works for the rest. With clues from the Urbanaut concept,

The new Mini hatchback range will include a petrol version built in Oxford, based on an updated version of the car’s architecture; and a shorter version built in China on a dedicated platform for electric vehicles. This joint venture is with Great Wall Motors. Both models are expected to be available in 2023.

The Chinese joint venture will also produce a new electric crossover. Meanwhile, the next-generation Countryman will come from Germany. It will be available with both petrol and electric power.

A small electric MPV, known as the Traveller, is another Mini that has been confirmed but is not yet confirmed. An eventual production version of Urbanaut is also being considered for later in this decade.

It is not a certainty that all Mini models will be replaced. As a result of market trends, the range has expanded and contracted over BMW’s ownership. There have been many variations in executions and body styles between generations. This is similar to the Clubman.

Heilmer stated that the topic of growing the Mini range was a topic they [Heilmer] and Mini boss Bernd Corber discuss every two weeks.”

Heilmer said, “We talk about new models, different models and first ask whether it’s brand fit and not just do the car for its sake. We aren’t expanding to eight to ten [models]. It’s usually around four to five. It is important to ask models questions and find out if there will be a market for them in the future. This is the moment we are in, and not for the next four-five years but for the years to come.

Heilmer stated that the design of the core model will be a continuation of the three-door hatchbacks made under BMW until now. It’s Mini’s “icon”, and “it’s set”. Other models will have more innovative looks.

“Yes, you go even more radical. Heilmer said, “Just look at the Urbanaut.” When asked about future Minis’ boldness, Heilmer replied: “The more you are closer to the original icon the less innovative you will be. Although the Urbanaut is farthest from the original hatchback, we can expand the brand even further if we move away from it.”

Heilmer also addressed Korber’s comments that the proportions for the next-generation hatchback would be modified to reduce the excess front-end overhang.

It’s a complicated topic. Heilmer stated that today’s car is largely driven by crash regulations. Heilmer said, “I have heard a lot about this generation, especially the proportions at the front. But we know exactly where they came from.” We can’t sell certain markets without them.

The next hatchback and the EV with an EV Architecture offer opportunities in terms of improving proportions, trying to make it shorter and more spacious than the current generation, while still having more interior space. This sounds absurd!

Mini’s next generation could be subtly moved upmarket. This would follow the more mature execution of current models but with a cleaner and less cluttered approach. Mini plans to use more fabrics in a variety of textures and knits as an alternative to leather. Chrome will also be phased out. Mini wants to limit the amount of trim that is decorative rather than functional.

Heilmer stated that customers wouldn’t expect lower premiums, but premium is changing. It is not about adding more elements.

“For the next-generation Mini, we looked at its beginning to see if any elements were there simply because they [the design group] wanted them. Any decoration? They didn’t. Let’s reduce and focus again on the essentials, without being too practical or lacking emotion. With colours and fabrics, we can bring back warmth. It’s important to have fabrics that have warmth when you have less elements.

The Strip concept, a pared-back design that was developed in collaboration with Paul Smith, showcased this minimalist approach to design. In the spirit of simplicity and sustainability, the car eliminated all non-essential trim pieces and exterior paint.

Heilmer said that removing leather was a “challenge” but important to “having an enormous impact on CO2 emissions. Until then, chrome is not something you need.

Heilmer stated that although the future Mini models will look very different, there will be “unifying factors” that will make them all stand out.

The next Countryman will be a sibling to BMW X1; it will grow in size accordingly. Heilmer, however, said that Minis will continue to grow in size. “We don’t know what we will require in 10 years, so it’s hard to predict.”

He stated that he has never seen a Mini closer to five meters in length, but the size of Minis is dependent on their market: “It’s an European phenomenon, being very small. They ask you why we have made the Countryman so small when you visit the USA. This can be solved by looking at which models are available in what markets.

Heilmer answered the question whether Mini still finds inspiration from the Rocketman concept. “Bernd [the city car segment] is a project we are working on.” We have a vision. We don’t look at things from a purely size perspective. Customers’ expectations are what you should be looking at. Although Mini Electric customers want more range, physics dictates that the battery size between each wheel should be smaller. You can go smaller by reducing range. This is less than what’s acceptable today. This is a problem we face and it is still not solved [in terms of battery range and crash requirements]. It will be difficult as long as these do not change.”