A second chance to chat with BMW design chief Adrian van Hooydonk in the space of a couple of months at BMW’s Christmas press event in London.
We last spoke pre-Paris when the main subject of conversation was Mini’s design future. Since then Mini design chief Gert Hildebrand has announced he will step down after ten years in charge at Mini. On January 1 2011, Anders Warming will take over.
Warming has been van Hooydonk’s right-hand man at BMW, leading the new 5-series, 7-series and a brace of X models into production. He’s a safe pair of hands. So can we expect any changes at Mini? Yes and reading between the lines, in some senses, they might be bigger than expected.
The important step forward seems to be that as Mini renews its line-up in the next-generation, there will be more visual differentiation between the models. “We don’t want that cookie-cutter look of all the models looking too similar,” said van Hooydonk, “we can find a bit of space between them.”
The foundation of the range — the hatchback — will set the design tone, and be close to the recent design themes, but we can expect the spin-off models to be a little more adventurous. “Of all our brands, Mini has the youngest buying profile and those are people who are more open to change.”
The timing of Hildebrand’s resignation means that Warming can have a major influence on the next family of Minis, particularly the all-important hatchback. Watch this space.
Of course, I also had to quiz van Hooydonk on the perception that British talent is short on the staff in Munich. Good news in that direction. “I have appointed a coupe of Brits,” said the boss, “we’ll unveil them in the New Year.”
But on the subject of a Mini design studio in London, the departure of Gert Hildebrand, doesn’t appear to be about to make any difference. As we chatted, BMW’s marketing chief - Brit Ian Robertson - joined in: “It’s a matter of resources. As a group we have to decide where to allocate resources and we’re very happy with BMW and Mini design.”
The move of Warming to Mini, has of course triggered the recruitment of new chief designer at BMW, a job that will be filled by Karim Habib who will return to Munich from Mercedes next March.
Habib will have been at Benz for a coupe of years and such is the significance of a senior designer moving from one German rival to another, van Hooydonk felt inclined to personally ‘phone Gorden Wagener, Merc design boss, to explain his reasoning.
“I’m on good terms with Gorden, and Benz was worried that we were recruiting a designer with long-term knowledge of their new products, but I had to remind him that two years ago, Karim left BMW with a similar depth of knowledge,” joked van Hooydonk.
Habib’s appointment is significant because it was his 2007 Shanghai concept of the CS four-door coupe that previewed BMW’s new long-hood, flat-bonnet and cab-rearward proportion that will flow through all the companies designs. Habib’s appointment allows BMW to seamlessly continue in its current design direction.