Stylepark Mini
Unmistakable appearance

Our interview with Oliver Heilmer, Vice President MINI Design, on the first all-electric MINI, David Bowie and the quest for maximizing quality in the tightest of spaces.

Fabian Peters: Everyone is eagerly awaiting the first MINI with an all-electric drive, to be presented in 2019. How far are you in terms of development? 

Oliver Heilmer: Now, one year before the launch, we are really only working on the last details – mostly related to industrialization, meaning as regards the production processes during assembly. 

In what ways is the all-electric MINI different to its gasoline-burning brothers and sisters? And what will happen to the MINI’s proverbial dynamism? 

Oliver Heilmer: It definitely has it! When we built the first small-scale series of electric MINIs in the year 2008 that was precisely our line of questioning: Does the car feel like a real MINI? And the unequivocal answer was: It most definitively does! The prototypes were two-seaters, because in the space where the back seat would normally be we installed the technology. Of course we wanted to change this for the mass-produced version. And now we are happy to have been able to implement both: A very dynamic car, which at the same time is as suited for daily use as every other MINI.

On the occasion of the famous Goodwood Festival of Speed in England in July, MINI presented a design sketch of the grill, as well as one of a wheel rim for the first all-electric MINI. Why these parts in particular?

Oliver Heilmer: As with the driving dynamics, our main aspiration in terms of design was that the all-electric MINI should first and foremost be clearly recognizable as a MINI. In the second step, we then considered how and in which places we ought to bring out the special character of this vehicle. The grill really lends itself to this, as with an electrically powered vehicle you can use a grill that is much more sealed than the one for a vehicle with a combustion engine. We made use of this fact in creating a very special look.

And the rims?

Oliver Heilmer: I always like to compare rims with shoes. They can give a special twist to the appearance, add that certain something. They have an extreme amount of potential for expressing things. Which is why it was very, very important to us to develop a real innovation when it came to the rims – a completely unprecedented rim. So we created a very unusual, graphic looking design. An asymmetric design, like the one we have implemented here, is absolutely unusual for rims.

What do such changes do to the MINI’s character?

Oliver Heilmer: I always like to compare this to David Bowie, who reinvented himself time and again, yet always stayed unmistakably himself. The MINI is also an unmistakable appearance, which becomes all the more fascinating thanks to its mutability and multi-facetted character.

The MINI’s iconic shape was created in the late 1950s as a consequence of its three most important construction features: These being its transverse engine, front-wheel drive, and the use of the very small wheels the classic MINI had. Will the electric drive change the MINI’s shape in the future?

Oliver Heilmer: I firmly believe that the type of drive will influence the further developments in terms of design. On the other hand: Even if there will no longer be a combustion engine under the classic MINI hood, we do still need there to be a hood in order to satisfy today’s requirements, for example in terms of crash safety. And many people also tend to forget: Electric motors also need cooling! And these coolers are ideally installed in the front of the car.

How strongly do you incorporate influences from fields other than car design?

Oliver Heilmer: We are a very diverse design team at MINI, because we all come from different areas. For example, there are fashion designers working with us, as well as architects. And each of these people brings his or her own perspective to the drawing board. What comes together there is a great treasure trove of knowledge and influence. 

What do you get excited about?

Oliver Heilmer: Art is extremely important to me as an influence. I thought it was quite thrilling to see graphic artist Takashi Murakami work together with personalities such as Kanye West and at the same time cooperate with Louis Vuitton. In New York, I recently visited a residential home designed by Zaha Hadid. The steps of the staircase there were a single rectangular shape – altogether an extremely fascinating project.

MINI is very intensively exploring the future of urban living with the Think Tank MINI LIVING. Sharing plays a central role here. How important will such considerations become in terms of design in the future?

Oliver Heilmer: We are consistently continuing to address this topic. Particularly in connection with our research in the realm of self-driving cars. For example, we are already busy considering which materials are especially suited for “shared mobility” purposes. Longevity plays a role here, as does the possibility of a quick clean up in-between users. What we first and foremost have in common with MINI LIVING is the underlying conceptual attitude, namely the wish to offer maximum quality – be it in living at home or in driving – in a very small space.