The MINI revolution: reinventing the most famous small car in the world
Our Best of British series continues as we meet some of the staff who’ve helped create a MINI boom under BMW
Reinventing the world’s most famous small car should have been a major gamble for BMW, but the little British car that captivated the world first time round has proven an even bigger phenomenon in its second coming.
The Mini name was the one good thing BMW salvaged from its ill-fated purchase of the Rover Group, yet the German giant still needed to start from scratch in 2000.
BMW has transformed MINI from cheap and cheerful basic transport to the world’s first premium small car and one of the biggest success stories of the last decade.
Nearly 1,000 MINIs roll off the Oxford production line every day, and more than three million have been sold in just 14 years since BMW relaunched the brand in 2001.
MINI has also become one of the UK’s greatest export successes, clocking up over £30billion worth of sales to 110 countries around the world, with 80 per cent of the cars built at Oxford being shipped abroad.
To put that figure into perspective, it took the original Mini nearly 45 years to clock up 5.3 million sales, so the new version is already well on the way to overtaking it and sealing its place in motoring’s hall of fame.
The MINI revolution has not come cheap, though. BMW has invested nearly £2billion in the brand to develop a new range of models and transform the ageing Oxford plant into a state-of-the-art, hi-tech factory.
The investment has not only benefited BMW, but also British workers, as more than 4,000 are now employed at Oxford with 800 more at the brand’s Swindon facility and 800 making engines at its plant at Birmingham.
Plus, thousands more jobs have been created in the UK components industry – supplying parts for MINI. But for one worker, Mick Fisher, the brand is extra special. Mick started working on the original Mini in 1965 at the old Longbridge plant in the West Midlands, and he now plies his trade on the new MINI and will celebrate 50 years’ service in September.
The 67-year-old said: “Mini has been the dominant part of my life. It was the first car I worked on as an apprentice and the first car I owned; I paid £500 for a second-hand one.
“My wife and I used to go on holiday to Cornwall in that car, and she still drives a new MINI 5dr today. The MINI has given us a very good living – it’s like part of the family.”
Mick said he has seen some remarkable changes from his early days working on the classic Mini: “The old factory was a dark and dire place to work. We used to work in a pit in the ground; it’s a very different story today.
“The big difference is the technology, it’s made the job on production lines much less physical and less stressful.” Despite the dramatic changes, Mick told us one thing hasn’t changed: “It’s always been different from any other car in the world, it has its own image, but the new one is very much a premium small car with all the gizmos.”
Mick now works as a project supervisor and is an inspiration to young workers like 21-year-old apprentice Zach Hollis. Zach joined MINI after three years in the army and is on a four-year maintenance apprenticeship. He sees the chance to grow with MINI and is clearly ambitious; when asked what his goal was, he said: “I’d like to go all the way and become the plant director; I want to get as far as I can. “MINI also offers job security and means I can plan for the future; coming here was the best decision I made.”
And the brand is very much in the genes for 27-year-old Hannah Crowder, who is the fourth generation of her family to work at the Oxford plant. Her great grandfather, Norman, was a superintendent, her grandfather, Derek, worked at Oxford for 42 years and her father, Alan, was an inspector. Plus, she even met her husband, Alan, on the job.
But Hannah admitted that when her dad suggested applying for an apprenticeship at Oxford, she was unimpressed: “I didn’t want to work in a car factory. I thought it would be a dirty and boring place to work, but Dad persuaded me to check it out and I’m glad he did.
“This is just the coolest place to work in the world, it has a real buzz about it and the MINI is a truly awesome car. My mum has just ordered the new five-door version that I’ve been doing the logistics for, so it’s safe to say that the car is very much part of our family.”
And in 10 years, Hannah has made her dad proud. After starting as a business apprentice, she has not only qualified but also achieved a degree in Business Management and is now a manager in logistics, making sure vital components arrive on to the production line bang on time.
“I love working here, the people are great and there’s a real sense of teamwork; everyone’s aim is to ensure the cars leave the line as perfect as possible,” Hannah added. “The MINI has become my life, and I’m happy to keep up the family tradition; I think I will always work here.”
And the amazing MINI continues to clock up new records: in the first four months of 2015, it passed 100,000 sales for the first time – putting it on course for record annual sales.
BMW’s marriage to Rover may have ended in disaster and divorce, but its partnership with MINI appears to be a match made in heaven, and one that has reignited Mini Mania all over the world.