Fascinating evening in Soho last night absorbing Mini’s left-of-field scooter concepts, with a chance to talk to BMW’s talented design boss Adrian van Hooydonk.
Anyone in the area for the evening might have spotted evidence of the event — a stream of visitors into the Phonica record shop in Poland Street, which is crammed with rare vinyl and whose earthy basement was given over to the reveal.
Personally, I think the idea of a two-wheel Mini is okay. Britain has a rich heritage of ‘bikes and BMW, Honda and Suzuki successfully combine two- and four-wheel designs. Why not Mini?
But the general feeling on the night was that the designs presented were disappointing because they looked just like carbon copies of Vespas and Lambrettas. Van Hooydonk even admitted that “we don’t expect Vespa to like them”.
In a major sense they are true to Mini’s design heritage, which stems from that era when Italian scooters were motorising post-war Italy. And much of Mini’s heritage imagery — enthusiastically exploited by BMW — overlaps with ‘60 mods, whose transport of choice was/is a tweaked Lambretta.
But with BMW’s vast design resource, engineering and management skill, surely more innovative designs could have been penned for the 21st century?
The Mini scooters even looked bloated around the pillion and engine bay, in the way that the new Mini is a much-enlarged version of the Issigonis original. Van Hooydonk explained that this was deliberate: “It’s a kind of British bulldog, beefy feel to the design.”
The details are true to the Mini design palette — large circular speedo, low-set round-ish headlight and chrome finish on the front fairing. “These are our design language,” said van Hooydonk.
And he pointed out that feedback from various designers at last night’s event was “very positive”. You can’t ignore BMW’s brilliant commercial record in making new Mini a global sales success — so maybe these scooters are destined to be a sure-fire sales hit.
Interestingly, he also alluded to British design houses — refusing to name names — who are helping Mini.
But I still think that Mini needs more British design input — specifically an advanced design studio in London and more British designers in Munich — to keep Mini on the design straight and narrow.
Bentley and Rolls-Royce, for example, have international design staffs, but based in the UK and interpreting global design needs very successfully.
To me too many of Mini’s brand and design themes are inspired by a German view of Britishness, which is threatening to undermine Mini’s fundamental brand foundations.