Dreaming small
Esquire Singapore|December 2020
Mini’s head of design explains why size is the only distinguishing feature of its cars.
Daryl Lee

“Looking at the market there’s no small car anymore, unlike back in the 1960s,” comments Oliver Heilmer of Mini, the British (but German-owned by the BMW Group) carmaker. He is, of course, referring to how much cars have grown since the original Mini (then British-made and owned) hit showroom floors in 1960. Just to give you a sense of how much Minis have grown, the current smallest model it makes, the 3-Door Hatch measures 3.8m long against the original—a positively Lilliputian that’s 3m long.

Heilmer is the carmaker’s head of design, a role he’s held since late 2017, having come over from a short stint at the BMW Group’s industrial design (among other things) subsidiary Designworks, and prior to that, he was head of interior design for the group’s eponymous brand. Suffice it to say, he knows quite a bit about designing cars both inside and out, a career he always knew he wanted even as a boy.

As to his earlier statement, Heilmer was responding to a question about whether the Countryman, the brand’s largest car and Mini’s offering in the compact SUV segment, still qualifies as a Mini, given how its physical dimensions make it more maxi than mini. “I’m convinced the Countryman is a Mini,” he says. “An SAV [BMW’s term for SUV] attracts a lot of customers and they’re very practical. Against other brands, the Countryman is the smallest in its segment, and that compactness is something important for us.”

What he says next should only serve to underline how Heilmer isn’t just a designer, but he’s also quite the hard-nosed businessman. “Back then, Mini was just a car, but today it’s a brand with different characters within it. We want to offer a variety of products to our customers. For instance, if someone is single and then decides to start a family, we don’t want to lose them,” he says.

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