By on June 1, 2017

2017 Mini Countryman, Image: MiniIn Oliver Heilmer, BMW Group’s Mini brand will finally have a design chief after being rudderless for much of the last year.

Anders Warming, Heilmer’s predecessor, resigned the post last summer. The 42-year-old Heilmer, who makes his way up the corporate ladder from BMW Designworks in California, won’t actually undertake his new role until September.

“With his design expertise and experience, Oliver Heilmer combines continuity with the freshness and vision Mini stands for,” Adrian van Hooydonk, head of BMW Group Design, said in BMW’s official statement. In other words, Heilmer is both an insider, as part of BMW Group Design for 17 years, but also an outsider, as the BMW Designworks boss who previously held a post in interior design at the BMW brand.

Regardless, Heilmer has his work cut out for him. In the hugely important U.S. market, Mini sales in 2016 fell to a six-year low, and sales are declining further in 2017.

To a large extent, Mini’s styling destiny is set in stone. Mini can’t reinvent the wheel. Mini can’t adopt Aston Martin’s grille as the new company face as Ford did. Mini can’t abandon the box like Volvo did with the first S80. Mini can’t go all-in on big rig styling like Dodge did with the Ram in 1993.

Mini is Mini. Yet Mini must become fresh again.

After huge lineup expansion, Mini is now more restrained. The Coupe, Roadster, and Paceman did not earn replacements. But that’s not to say the lineup is entirely sensible. Beyond the conventional two-door Mini, there’s a four-door squeezed between the two-door and the elongated Clubman. Both the Clubman wagon and similarly sized but low-slung Countryman crossover are available with all-wheel drive.

Mini also relies on its most maxi models for the majority of its U.S. sales. The three four-door models account for 62 percent of Mini volume in 2017’s first four months. The Countryman, bolstered by the launch of a second-generation model early this year, is the overall top seller. Granted, some of the affection for the Countryman has also been lost — even in the brand’s traditional home market.Mini Design Boss Oliver Heilmer, Image: BMWWhat to do with Mini? That was TTAC’s question in mid-May. The answer, for now, seems to include the hiring of a new design director. At BMW Designworks, a consulting firm responsible for the design of skis and shoes, urban furniture and mouthwash bottles, Oliver Heilmer was up close and personal with unique products in disparate industries.

Now he must breathe new life into the Mini brand, where iconic design was met with great hoopla in 2001, but where Alec Issigonis’ 58-year-old design philosophy is entrenched.

[Images: BMW Group]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at Paardensex and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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7 Comments on “BMW Group Hires Oliver Heilmer As New Boss Of Mini Design – It’s About Time...”


  • avatar
    65corvair

    If their reliability was good, instead of dreadful, I would have looked at them when I bought my last two cars. The Mini is the like the PT Cruiser and New Beetle, it has a limited run, after that its sales will be limited. I don’t know if the new lower volume will be profitable. Outsource it to Toyota!

    • 0 avatar
      darex

      Great news for you then. Reliability is way up. MINI ranked #13, in the most recent survey I read. My 2014 MINI F56, now 3 years old, has been flawless.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    First off, a Mini shouldn’t have 4 doors; the thing is huge compared to the vehicle from which it came! All these bloated Minis have destroyed the whole concept of what Mini is supposed to mean.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I kind of feel like Mini has had its run and any further $$ spent by BMW on this project is are just wasted R&D efforts that could be better utilized elsewhere.

    Hummer was headed down this path as well, even before the economic crisis. Only so many things you can do with a niche market vehicle that does not have exotic panache. Scion would be another example, so and so forth.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    Mini should have never been a brand.

    Model, yes, but not a brand. Making Mini a brand would be like VW deciding to make every car look like the New Beetle.

    I still think they should take the base Mini, give it a proper trunk, and sell it as a BMW 2002.

  • avatar
    hpycamper

    Reliability is my biggest complaint with MINI. Wish more automakers would offer the configurability that MINI offers. I wouldn’t ask them to make major changes to the look any more than I would ask Porsche to make big changes to the 911.

  • avatar
    997S

    Interesting commentary – one of my first cars was a Mini Cooper 997S. My first car was a big Healey. My first new car was a BMW 2002. A year ago I bought the new six door Mini Cooper S Clubman and I love it. It has been completely reliable, fast and handles great. i’ve always bought cars that I like, not because others thought they were great. Time has proven my judgment.


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