Last week I spent the afternoon in a photographic studio on the outskirts of Munich with the boss of the Mini brand, Dr Wolfgang Armbrecht, and the new design boss, Anders Warming.
Warming takes over from Gert Hildebrand, who has led Mini design since early 2001, after BMW broke-up and sold off the ailing Rover Group.
In the flesh, the Rocketman looks like what it is - a carefully considered package but one lavished with concept car fripperies. I would doubt there’s much chance of a future city-biased Mini built around a carbon-fibre monocoque, and there’s even less chance of double-hinged doors and a completely clear roof.
What the Rocketman indicates - and you need to look through the bling - is that there’s probably a case for a tiny Mini, but only at a sensible price. Unlike the previous Mini concepts, this one hasn’t already been quietly given the nod. BMW staff will be all ears at the Geneva motor show.
Until now, Mini has been semi-detached from BMW, having its own factory and unique platform and engines. Work has already started on integrating Mini into the wider company. The next-generation Mini hatch, due in 2013, will be based on the new BMW-engineered front-drive platform and it has already been given a BMW F-prefix development code. Until now, Mini models were prefixed ‘R’ in recognition of their origins in the old Rover group.
These moves, of course, open all sorts of questions about the Mini’s ‘Britishness’ and the way in which the brand can be re-invented and refreshed, especially in a hyper-competitive market that is rapidly moving towards the premium downsizing pioneered by the first new-generation Mini a decade ago.
Which is why it was so interesting to meet Anders Warming. Warming may be the most influential designer you’ve never heard of. Born in Denmark, he graduated from the Art Centre in Pasadena in 1997 and joined BMW’s California Designworks studio. He worked on the cutting edge BMW GINA and Mille Miglia concepts and was credited with the Z4 roadster, putting him at the forefront of BMW’s controversial ‘flame surfacing’ era under then-design boss Chris Bangle.
He was made head of exterior design for the BMW brand in 2007 when still just 35 years old, overseeing the X3 and the new 6-series and 5-series models.
“Mini will remain Mini” says Warming. “In its class, Mini will always be the cleverest, have the most intelligent engineering and be the most valuable looking.”
“Personally, I love beautiful things and I love engineering and Mini must adhere to both. Engineering and aesthetics, emotion and rationality, is a balance and I think that the balance is the essence of Mini.”
“But overall, authenticity is the vision for the brand. Whatever car we build, whatever size or the requirements, or if it’s all-wheel drive, authenticity is the key. It’s a sign of the times; there’s no place for superficiality in the future.”
Which, when translated, means that the new Mini design boss understands that pastiche is not an option. The next few years will be very interesting and, possibly, an era of complete re-invention for the Mini brand.