Anders Warming, Heilmer’s predecessor, resigned the post last summer. The 42-year-old Heilmer, who makes his way up the corporate ladder from BMW Designworks in California, won’t actually undertake his new role until September.
“With his design expertise and experience, Oliver Heilmer combines continuity with the freshness and vision Mini stands for,” Adrian van Hooydonk, head of BMW Group Design, said in BMW’s official statement. In other words, Heilmer is both an insider, as part of BMW Group Design for 17 years, but also an outsider, as the BMW Designworks boss who previously held a post in interior design at the BMW brand.
Regardless, Heilmer has his work cut out for him. In the hugely important U.S. market, Mini sales in 2016 fell to a six-year low, and sales are declining further in 2017.
To a large extent, Mini’s styling destiny is set in stone. Mini can’t reinvent the wheel. Mini can’t adopt Aston Martin’s grille as the new company face as Ford did. Mini can’t abandon the box like Volvo did with the first S80. Mini can’t go all-in on big rig styling like Dodge did with the Ram in 1993.
Mini is Mini. Yet Mini must become fresh again.
After huge lineup expansion, Mini is now more restrained. The Coupe, Roadster, and Paceman did not earn replacements. But that’s not to say the lineup is entirely sensible. Beyond the conventional two-door Mini, there’s a four-door squeezed between the two-door and the elongated Clubman. Both the Clubman wagon and similarly sized but low-slung Countryman crossover are available with all-wheel drive.
Mini also relies on its most maxi models for the majority of its U.S. sales. The three four-door models account for 62 percent of Mini volume in 2017’s first four months. The Countryman, bolstered by the launch of a second-generation model early this year, is the overall top seller. Granted, some of the affection for the Countryman has also been lost — even in the brand’s traditional home market.What to do with Mini? That was TTAC’s question in mid-May. The answer, for now, seems to include the hiring of a new design director. At BMW Designworks, a consulting firm responsible for the design of skis and shoes, urban furniture and mouthwash bottles, Oliver Heilmer was up close and personal with unique products in disparate industries.
Now he must breathe new life into the Mini brand, where iconic design was met with great hoopla in 2001, but where Alec Issigonis’ 58-year-old design philosophy is entrenched.
[Images: BMW Group]