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The BBC's Justin Webb
"This is more than a face lift"
 real 56k

Rainer Brickmann, BMW
This is a true Mini
 real 28k

Rainer Brickmann, BMW
We will make money on the Mini
 real 28k

Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
A new life for the Mini
The Mini on the road in Italy
BMW's Mini looks like the old one, but costs much more
Forty-two years after the Mini first saw the light of day, this classic car has been reborn - under the supervision of German luxury car maker BMW. BBC News Online's Jorn Madslien visited the Mini factory in Oxford to find out whether the pricey new Mini is more than just a Go-kart for the rich.

A-year-and-a-half after the last Mini rolled off Rover's assembly line in Longbridge, this cute, little car has returned.

Rainer Bickmann, BMW Group assembly director at the Mini factory in Oxford
BMW's Mr Bickmann insists that this is not a BMW
About 100,000 Minis will eventually leave its new factory in Oxford, with between a fifth and a quarter of them destined for UK car buyers.

But this time around, the Mini's parent is not British.

And, say critics, neither is the car.

Jewel in the crown

When, a year ago, the German car maker BMW got rid of its ailing UK subsidiary, Rover, the one thing it wanted to keep was the Mini.

The last Mini
The last Mini rolled off the assembly line at the Longbridge factory in October 2000....
"There's nothing in the BMW range which comes close to what the Mini is, nor will there ever be," says Mini's general manager, Trevor Houghton-Berry, a former fleet director at Rover.

"So its very much in line with the Group strategy of producing premium cars, from Mini down in the smaller sector, right to the top".

BMW saw the Mini as the jewel in the Rover crown, and still seems convinced that the Mini will sell well - despite its relatively high price.

Not least since the car is really not much more than a good looking two-seater with a big boot, or a very tight rear seat.

Hip car

The new Mini will not be sold as a small car for the masses, but as a nippy, hip car for the young and image-conscious with money to burn.

BMW's Mini on the assembly line in Oxford
...and here is its successor at BMW's assembly line in Oxford.
BMW dismisses suggestions that the new Mini, which is 11 inches longer than the old one, lacks the Go-kart qualities of the original, made famous by the movie 'The Italian Job' during the 1960s.

"The car is an original Mini," insists Rainer Bickmann, assembly director of BMW Group in Oxford.

"It's in principle the same technical concept as the old Mini".

Not BMW

Mr Bickmann also insists that the Mini is not a small BMW.

The creator of the Mini drives model number 1,000,000 off the assembly line in Longbridge
The original Mini was a car for the masses.
It will be sold by dedicated Mini sales staff working in dedicated Mini dealerships.

However, these will be based in and be part of BMW's 148 dealerships in the UK.

"But it is not branded as a BMW and that is not the goal for us to do that," Mr Bickmann said.

"What we are doing is use the BMW technology and the BMW know-how to create a car which can achieve the targets for that premium brand in that market".

But why not tell the customers that, in fact, they are buying a BMW?

"Because with a BMW, we address a different target group. The Mini is for a target group with a different lifestyle than the BMW customer," he says.

Size matters

It seems only fitting that this old British icon should be the one to throw a lifeline to one Britain's most historic car factories, providing 2,500 jobs.

Mini price:

Mini One:
10,300
Mini Cooper:
11,600
Chances are that without the Mini, the former Rover plant in Cowley near Oxford would have been unceremoniously shut down a year ago.

But inside this labyrinth of workshops, paint shops and assembly lines, it appears obvious that if there is one word that does not describe it, then it is fitting.

For as is often the case with this curious looking car; it quite simply seems to be too small - while the factory seems to be too large.

Spacious factory

First impressions suggest that this must be the most spacious car factory on earth.

Worker fitting a door on a Mini
The Mini is BMW's only front-wheel-drive car
Indeed, only a year ago it had to be big, when it was turning out considerably larger cars, Rover's 75.

With the Mini, even at full capacity, it seems unlikely that the assembly line will turn into the sort of heaving inferno that characterised the old-style Rover production line.

The Mini assembly seems different to that of other cars.

The quiet, calm atmosphere makes it look as if the workers are producing microchips instead of cars.

This is not only because the factory is operating below its planned output at the moment.

Mr Bickmann insists that the calm atmosphere is a sign of composure, of control.

And given that each of the Minis turned out are customised to clients' needs, a degree of skilled work is required.

"We have now seventy-six free available [customisation] options for the customer," promises Mr Bickmann.

Making money

But will it make money, or will BMW lose its shirt again? That is the question shareholders and factory workers alike want answered.

Workers in Cowley, Oxford
Will it provide safe jobs?
"Financially, the contribution this car will make to the [BMW] Group is perfectly acceptable," insists Mr Houghton-Berry.

"Though on a per unit basis it may not be as profitable as some BMW models".

He is even able to reassure workers who, when asked if they feel their jobs are safe, answer: "No place is safe is it? No place is safe. It's reasonably all right. I think it's all right at the moment."

Their boss is more optimistic. "This is a program that works financially and it will ultimately fund future Minis," says Mr Houghton-Berry.

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See also:

22 May 01 | Business
Picture Gallery: The new Mini
19 May 01 | Business
BMW completes deal with MG Rover
10 May 01 | Business
BMW profits quadruple
16 Jan 01 | Business
BMW re-vote on UK pay deal
04 Oct 00 | Business
End of the Mini
24 Dec 00 | UK
Mini Cooper creator dies
10 Feb 99 | UK
The might of the Mini
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