As much as the two brands represent different ideals in the marketplace, BMW and MINI are driven by a similar ethos of performance, design and technology. To get a better understanding what where both BMW design and the MINI brand are headed, we On the occasion of the MINI Aceman concept launch we sat down with both Adrian van Hooydonk (Head of BMW Design) and Oliver Heimler (Head of MINI Design) to talk about both brands and the future of the industry.
Given MINI Aceman concept is massively important for MINI, we dove deep into the new car’s radical departure from the MINI brand and in the process uncovered some hints at where BMW is headed. For instance MINI’s desire to move away from chrome and leather is absolutely something BMW is looking at following in the years ahead. Further MINI’s new minimal design direction is also something BMW is learning from as it looks to introduce a new design language with the Neue Klasse of cars.
It was a wonderfully free flowing conversation and both unlocked some of the thinking behind the future of BMW design, MINI’s new design direction and the Aceman itself..
BimmerFile – In your words, tell us what does the Aceman tell us about the future of MINI and the BMW Group?
Adrian Van Hooydonk – Industry going through changes and most aren’t going away. For us as designers this represents the opportunity. When tech change, designers can make bigger, bolder changes in design and we’re about to do that in all of our brands. It also has a strong connection to the original 1959 in philosophy. In the next few months you’ll see these type of big leaps with all of our brands.
The Aceman gives us clues where the MINI brand will go combining electrification and digitalization and heritage. This show car does all of that.
It specifically shows a new level of digitalization. At the moment it’s not so good in that area but this will be a tremendous jump.
BF – What inspired you to make such a bold move with MINI?
Oliver Heimler – Our goal is to be fully electric by 2030 (early 2030s in the US). The Aceman fills the gap between the Countryman and the forthcoming electric MINI Cooper which comes next year. Many markets have been asking for a larger Countryman which has opened space for something smaller in the family.
This was a big opportunity to go into a new direction in terms of form language, making each of the characters unique. The Mini Cooper is the icon internally and has to be developed more carefully. The countryman has to be for the family. The Aceman is a new family member that is fresh and young – the edge is what we call it internally
BF – How does the MINI Aceman compare to the Countryman or BMW X1 in terms of size?
Oliver Heimler – Electrification was an enabler for what mini stands for – maximize interior volume. The Aceman is slightly shorter than the first generation countryman but much more interior space. Our approach for the MINI Cooper will be different, we know we need to keep it as small as possible.
Adrian Van Hooydonk – Ironically making something smaller takes more time and energy
BF – How much can MINI experiment with the shape of its cars?
Oliver Heimler – Proportions are important and have to be right. But form language is where we see there are chances for experimentation. We are well aware of those fantastic proportions MINI has. Wheels in the corner, short overhangs etc. As long as we are driving my ourselves we can’t lose.
The first Countryman did something different than the hatch but it stayed true to those proportions.
Adrian Van Hooydonk – The family look is important for our brands. But within the family we need distinct characters not that different than a real family.
BF – What is the biggest challenge in redefining the design language of a brand where heritage matters so much?
Oliver Heimler – This question is something we work on every day! We started three projects same time thinking about this question. Part of the MINI history is disruption – (Alec) Issigonis didn’t care about what came before when he designed the original.
For us, it’s how do deal with these elements when we don’t need all of them. We are always trying things and asking what is still necessary – which is what’s Issigonis asked. What do you need for a modern car today and what is MINI about it?
The Cooper will be the successor of the hatch. It will still feature deep round headlights – those are some of the elements we won’t touch.
This new car is more high-tech than ever but it’s as simple as the original 1959 Mini. Because of that design will be closer to the original but will feel all new.
The Aceman will be most compact vehicle in the segment. It should look like it punches above its weight – like the original. It has a certain edginess and feel that it can do more than you would think
We love this brand – we want to take care of it. It’s the only brand in the world that everyone loves! While Alec Issigonis did this in one car… we’ve done that across a family of MINIs.
BF: What pushed you to be so radically simple with the interior?
Oliver Heimler – With the interior we looked at 1959 for inspiration and paid no attention to any iterations between then and now. In the original there’s a steering wheel, a central an a toggle bar. With this new family it’s the same thing. With digitization we were able to achieve that exact experience as the original Mini.
The team fell in love with the toggle bar from the original 1959 car. We even brought back the turn-key as a movement to turn on the car. The design team wanted to bring back a tactile experience that felt connected to the original. We’re still human beings and we wanted to keep this tactile experience.
BF: Tell us about electrification, range and how it’s impacted the way you design for the BMW Group?
Adrian Van Hooydonk – Battery tech is progressing rapidly. MINI was the first ev from the BMW Group and we learned a lot from it. We also learned a lot from its successor the BMW i3. We learned about range anxiety and how customers always drove less than they thought they would.
We’ve also leaned that when the public sees a small car they don’t expect a huge range at this point. But still we’ve pushed for as much range as possible and optimized for aero because of it. Additionally we’ll see a new generation of battery with these cars that will allow for a huge leap in range.
BF – What inspired you to The Biggest Design Change Since the R50? What are the challenges with making such a radical departure?
Adrian Van Hooydonk – Zietgiest – we’re living in a world that is changing in double speed. You either go at that speed or get left behind. When you go electric you have to make a big step.
It also depends what stage the brand is at. BMW showed respect for the brand and the heritage and it became a success. Carefully BMW added new family members that stayed close – maybe too close to the oringal. Now we can say MINI is established in markets where the original as never sold.
Now we can have the confidence to make each character in the family strong and unique. Of course there will be a core MINI but around it we can move a little more free.
These chances warrant a bigger step and more courage This is about turning the page in terms of MINI design
BF: How important is being small to the future of MINI?
Oliver Heimler – The Countryman is designed around families. And we’ve heard from owners they need more space. With the hatch our goal was different – to make it smaller than before. Important for many reasons but key is the driving dynamics
We also try to reduce as many components as possible to make things simpler and lighter. For instance the Aceman’s door panels are extremely simple to keep things simpler and lighter for both production and weight both also with sustainability in mind.
Adian Van Hooydonk – We want to offer the smallest car in the segment. With the hatch we will always try to make it smaller. It’s only safety regulations that make the new hatch larger than the original. We could make as small than the original but crash standard get in the way.
We are prepared to go the extra mile. A good design always start with a good proportion and both our designers and engineers understand that.
Global requirements keep moving the goal posts but we never give up on that.
BF – What’s the motivation in moving away from chrome and leather and will BMW Follow?
Oliver Heimler – Lets talk about chrome – when we started with the new gen we started with a creative mindset. Started with these four mindsets:
We believe chrome isn’t modern anymore. Not for a young fresh brand. It also takes a lot of energy to produce and we look at the environmental impact across every component. We’re focused on zero emissions at the tailpipe but we want to go further and think about everything that goes into the car.
With all this in mind MINI Design team felt strong that the brand should go no leather and chrome – which will be a first for the BMW Group.
The textile in the dash and in the door is one idea we have to replace these. This also allows or new ideas. Currently there’s zero chance to change colors in your car. In the future you can change the color the yarn and fabric easily which can change the look of the car.
Oliver Heimler – The R50 is the grandson of the original. The Aceman is the entirely new family member. With this car we had more freedom similar to the original Countryman.
We wanted to define a perfect character. It’s not the younger brother to the Countryman but defining something entirely different. What we did in the design process was to do clinics and get feedback from current customers and young potential customers. The feedback we got was overwhelmingly that finally MINI is getting young and fresh.
BF – How are you innovating in Digital Connectivity?
Oliver Heimler – Light played a large role – how does that relate to the mini brand moving forward?
Digitalization is offering opportunities to simplify technology. At MINI if we’re doing something for the customer it has to feel human. It’s not just lighting but animation, projections and sound.
It’s happening inside and outside. The taillights – a big topic at MINI is personalization. We saw an opportunity to give customer what lighting signature the customer would like to have. That’s the idea behind the matrix lights which can change based on what a customer wants.
The concept is personalization in a friendly and playful way. The experience creates an atmosphere around you that goes beyond function. This happened at the same time as we had decided to reduce the dashboard.
BF – How is MINI creating something unique as google and apple fight to take over the in-vehicle experience?
Adrian Van Hooydonk – We want to do vehicle interface ourselves. We have a strong and growing UI and UX team and you have to do it as part of your brand design.
We will allow Carplay and Android Auto but if we were to hand over keys to Apple and Google, they wouldn’t go the extra mile to make it fit the brand expression we have carefully crafted.
Oliver Heimler – We’ve created a fit that is much better but you also have a natural connection to our brand new MINI app. It’s all an experience that is all brand specific.
The forthcoming personalized experience mode adds things that these companies never could. Some of those modes are connected to the driving dynamics – another advantage we see for us.
While we have a great relationship with Apple and Google, we are a small player to them.
Will JCW remain an important part of the brand?
Oliver Heimler – That work is ongoing but not defined quite yet. I had the chance to drive the new Cooper and was just fascinated. The architecture is so good for driving dynamics… it’s even more go-kart feeling than today’s car.
How much is sustainability influencing MINI & BMW design decisions moving forward?
Oliver Heimler – In everything we do we start by asking, is this idea sustainable or not? If not, it’s done. Aesthetics don’t overrule sustainability at MINI.
While the materials you touch might be sustainable what about what’s underneath – this is what we’re thinking about across the BMW Group
We want to design even for disassembly. It’s not easy because we also need our suppliers to think this way. The MINI Strip allowed us to get more ideas in that direction.
Adrian Van Hooydonk – We can now completely recycle aluminum cast wheels and turn them into new ones for instance. Every design we create we think about the energy that will go into forming that shape and is it worth it?
Do you see going electric and becoming more sustainable is a way for MINI to grow?
Oliver Heimler – We believe the world will turn more in the direction of mini… the world is becoming more MINI (said smiling).