The chang­ing of the guard at BMW de­sign

Af­ter 15 months of tur­moil BMW needs to get its de­sign house in or­der. Group de­sign boss Adrian van Hooy­donk has a plan, start­ing with Mini. By Guy Bird

CAR (UK) - - Contents -

TO SAY BMW Group de­sign boss Adrian van Hooy­donk has had a lot on his plate over the past 15 months would be an un­der­state­ment.

First, in April 2016 Benoit Ja­cob quit as head of the i sub-brand to join Chi­nese EV start-up Fu­ture Mo­bil­ity and was re­placed by ex-head of BMW ex­te­ri­ors Do­magoj Dukec.

Then in Au­gust Mini de­sign boss An­ders Warm­ing jumped ship to vin­tage Ger­man brand Borg­ward (re-born with new Chi­nese money). And the Mini post was still va­cant when mild-man­nered BMW brand de­sign chief Karim Habib left his post in Jan­uary 2017 – resur­fac­ing at In­finiti a few months later – be­fore be­ing re­placed by ex-Skoda boss Jozef Ka­ban.

In the same pe­riod, many in­te­rior and ex­te­rior de­sign man­agers changed roles within BMW. How­ever you slice it, this sug­gests some­thing is amiss in the BMW De­sign camp. What­ever their mo­ti­va­tions for leav­ing, the gaps left group de­sign boss Adrian van Hooy­donk with a lot of de­sign work to over­see as well as im­por­tant re­cruit­ment.

‘I had a full-time job even when Karim and An­ders were here and cur­rently it’s three times that,’ van Hooy­donk tells CAR in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view. ‘I have been spin­ning a lot of plates.’

The role of Mini de­sign boss re­mained va­cant un­til the re­cent ap­point­ment of Oliver Heilmer, ex-pres­i­dent of the group’s prod­uct de­sign arm De­sign­works. He starts in Septem­ber; that’s a long time for a mar­que as busy as Mini to be with­out a ded­i­cated boss.

Van Hooy­donk ad­mit­ted that of the brands un­der his watch, Mini re­quired the most at­ten­tion. ‘I think it’s the one which needed the big­gest push and, as a mat­ter of fact, I’ve been do­ing the job my­self for al­most a year. When An­ders left we had just fin­ished one gen­er­a­tion with the Coun­try­man, and a new gen­er­a­tion was just be­gin­ning. So I was able to lay the foun­da­tions. There are quite a lot of changes in the prod­uct line-up [no more Road­ster and Pace­man, for in­stance]. I changed the man­age­ment team as well, be­cause all of them had been work­ing quite a long time for the Mini brand.’

Ar­guably Mini’s prob­lems go deeper than de­sign staff short­ages. It’s tough for a brand re­born in 2000 to keep rein­ter­pret­ing ideas in­spired by a 1959 orig­i­nal.

‘When BMW ac­quired it, Mini grew into a global, mul­ti­ple-car brand, but then maybe the de­signs be­came some­what evolutionary. We set the brand on a course a bit like the Porsche 911 – a care­ful evo­lu­tion – but the Mini was copied a lot by other brands, and to me that’s a sign you have to move on.’

Elec­tric ve­hi­cles free de­sign­ers from tra­di­tional con­straints Oliver Heilmer is tak­ing over Mini de­sign af­ter run­ning De­sign­works

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