GRR

Meet the man who's about to change the face of Mini

15th August 2018
Richard Aucock

Meet Oliver Heilmer. He’s the person who may give us new Minis that don’t look like identikit old Minis. And he’s very excited by the opportunity. When we spoke at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, he made the PR man jittery and a film crew wait, as he explained the nuances of Mini design and how a future Mini can still be a Mini without having to necessarily replicate every new MINI since 2001.

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There are obvious intrinsic Mini styling trademarks, he explained. “The wheel-at-each-corner stance, the floating roof, the lights…” Think of the characteristics that you can sketch on a piece of paper in three or four penstrokes: these are the Mini must-haves. The rest? If it can be authentically evolved or reinterpreted, then in Heilmer’s eyes, it’s not fixed. Indeed, he poses the question to us: what do you need for a Mini to still be a Mini?

It’s clear he’s thinking hard about the future. “We are heavily into the process at the moment,” he said. The Mini of the future is being formed right now. Which is why it’s so interesting to hear the 43-year-old German’s views.

Heilmer frequently insists that Mini can be daring. It has “a licence – an obligation – to provoke”. He recognises the need to balance tradition, but is eager to start focusing much more on the future, arguably more so than the brand has since its revival in 2001.

The fact Mini specialises in urban vehicles excites Heilmer. It’s one best known for small cars – it’s in the name – and the bigger a Mini gets, the less successful it feels. With urbanisation set to be a major trend in the future, Mini is a brand as relevant as it’s ever been.

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New tech such as autonomous drive “gives you new freedoms. I will embrace technology – I am a fan of technological innovation”. But don’t worry. “It won’t go in just for the sake of it – [it] has to match the brand.” Mini won’t lose itself in tech.

He’s also looking at things like 3D printing, something the firm already offered for a limited number of parts. “We’re working with suppliers on this to introduce in the future.” Always a feature of the brand, it seems you might be able to make your Mini even more personal in the future

At Goodwood, alongside the Electric Concept and John Cooper Works Concept, Mini teased some confirmed design aspects of the 2019 Mini Electric. We saw a sketch of a fully closed-off grille, still in the traditional (“signature”) Mini shape, marked out by a yellow bar and ‘E’ logo. We saw asymmetric wheels, again carrying the yellow ‘E’ accent, indicating this will be another aspect of the concept to make production.

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You sense Heilmer see the upcoming Electric as an opportunity to link past with future. Even its 2019 launch seems part-purposefully timed to tie in with the 60-year anniversary of the original Mini. The treatment of the grille could be one example of a ‘stepping stone’ approach; a statement is made of it being blanked off here, and could it disappear entirely in the future?

Heilmer doesn’t appear to be a designer who puts things on for the sake of it: kitsch retro skeuomorphism isn’t his thing. Neither is simply repurposing the past with a fresh lick of paint. It seems Mini design may soon embark on its first big Mini adventure.

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