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Teutonic efficiencies mean new Mini will be better built

Streamlined functions: The new Mini takes less time to build.

Demand drives production upgrade for a new Mini designed to be built better

Mini logo16 Oct 2006

BMW is ramping up Mini production to meet global demand by exorcising the last of the old Rover ghosts.

Currently 200,000 of them roll out annually. This is set to rise to 240,000 units "in the medium term".

BMW says that it was not prepared for such a strong demand, with 875,000 sold since the model’s 2001 debut.

Sales in America, particularly, have surprised the Germans: 150,000-plus in the first three years, when 60,000 were originally forecast.

"We created a new segment. We can say that without exaggeration", according to the vice president of brand management for Mini, Dr Kay Segler.

To ensure that it can meet future demand and make more money doing so has been paramount with all future Mini models.

The company started with the core of the Mini – by making the 2007 R56 hatchback and its future derivatives easier to design and cheaper to build.

This involved a rethink of every individual component – from the overly complex bonnet/headlight arrangement of the outgoing model, to the completely new drivetrain and its installation process.

An example illustrated to GoAuto by a Mini insider is the current R50 Mini’s intricate and fiddly dashboard and instrumentation set-up as designed by Rover it has been banished in the new R56 model for a far-simpler and cheaper alternative, to save money and speed the production process up.

The Brazilian engine co-operation with Chrysler is another example.

Apart from dismaying BMW – this arrangement for the outgoing Mini was struck between Rover and Chrysler before the latter was swallowed whole by Daimler-Benz, BMW’s arch rival, in 1998 – producing engines on another continent is not the most efficient solution.

Hence BMW’s PSA Peugeot Citroen drivetrain arrangement, which brings down costs due to the vast volume the French envisage for their version of this engine.

Rover also used other components and manufacturing processes that BMW has since identified as "incompatible" with the increased production necessary to meet growing Mini demand.

So, since 2001, BMW has invested over $A500 million in plant upgrades, bringing in technology upgrades, improved robotisation, just-in-time supply of parts and inventory, and other advanced new processes.

This is spread among the three English "production triangle" sites that either produce or assemble the various Mini components – Cowley near Oxford (body shell production, paint and final assembly), Swindon (exterior body pressings) and Hams Hall (engines).

Employing 6350 workers today, this will rise to 6800 when full production capacity is reached.

Upping the Mini's UK content from 40 to 60 per cent for the R56 has also created 750 new jobs. The car’s front end, cockpit and seat modules are now sourced within an hour’s drive of the Oxford assembly plant.

Flexibility in production shifts, design to move with the Mini’s demand, has also benefited output, with 400 units now built per shift.

The production sites are now able to manufacture a variety of different Mini variants on one assembly line.

BMW has also implemented a more streamlined production methodology to cope with the bewildering variations available in the Mini – around 15,000 trillion different Minis can be produced, theoretically, if all the possible option permutations are exercised.

In an effort to improve customer service, the plants can now also cope with last-minute changes to an order up to seven days before production. Previously it was 10 days.

The time it takes to build the latest Mini has dropped marginally, from "well over five hours" to "just on" five hours.

Production for the R56 Mini started on September 1, while the outgoing R50 hatchback will cease to be made in December.

Electronic power steering
BMW intended to use electronic power steering (EPS) in the 2001 R50 Mini, but the technology was not as yet up to scratch, according to one company insider.

EPS will not be limited to the R56 Mini and its derivatives either. Future BMWs will eventually move to it from the hydraulic set-up of the current cars.

Farewell old blighty baby
After almost 900,000 sales, the final British designed small car – and the only one of the 21st Century – sets sail towards the sunset.

The R50 Mini may have been overseen by BMW, but the bulk of the car was the work of Rover’s designers and engineers based in England.

This is in contrast to the new R56 model, which has its design roots firmly entrenched in Germany.

However, BMW is rather less nostalgic about the diminished ‘Englishness’ of the last mainstream British small car.

"Issigonis’ mother was a German, and his father was from Smyrna – now Izmir – in Turkey," says one BMW insider.

"So, really, the first Mini was not really all that British after all!"

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