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.’