The fourth-generation Mini family will be limited to just "four or five hero cars", according to Peter Schwarzenbauer, BMW board member for Mini and Rolls-Royce.

Speaking at the recent Detroit motor show, Schwarzenbauer suggested that the Mini line-up could be reduced from the six or seven models planned for the third-generation range in the fourth-gen line-up due at the end of the decade. He also said he would like to see the styling of future Mini models to change to have much greater differentiation.

His surprise intervention came just days before the international launch of the new Mk3 Mini. He said BMW had to be “sensitive about the number of variants and about size. It is better to go in a different direction to concentrate on doing less but better”.

Schwarzenbauer’s outline plan involves further improving the design and build quality of the Mk4 Mini range over that of the Mk3, achieved by concentrating Mini’s research and development spending on a smaller number of models.

Schwarzenbauer would also like to see a small Mini design studio based in London. The current Mini design team is in based in Munich, and it is thought that the only British members who work there are in the clay modelling division. Indeed, the success of Nissan’s London-based design team — responsible for the Qashqai and Juke — has been noted by the rest of industry. Nissan’s Infiniti brand is also about to open a London studio.

Autocar understands that some BMW strategists are concerned that the Mini has strayed too far from its roots and that some models — particularly the new JCW concept — have become parodies of the original Cooper. 

Schwarzenbauer’s ‘hero cars' appear to be a three-door hatch, a convertible sister car and a proper SUV. “Each model must be a hero in its own market and have the trademark personality, style and go-kart handling,” he said.

Schwarzenbauer revealed that he could foresee Mini models up to 4.5 metres long, some 30cm longer than today’s Countryman. A big Mini SUV could arrive in 2017 and mark the first expression of this strategy.

This new strategy could also result in Mini moving upmarket and away from its current pricing strategy. A hatchback to compete in the Volkswagen Golf class, priced from about £17,000, is possible. Higher-priced Minis also make more sense economically because production is in the UK, which has relatively high manufacturing costs.