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Editorial: MINI, the Pearl in the Shell That Was Rover

Featured Posts, Interesting | September 22nd, 2010 by 23
bmw mini

A little over ten years ago BMW pulled the plug on the ‘English Patient’ known as Rover. The decision to purchase Rover did not serve …

A little over ten years ago BMW pulled the plug on the ‘English Patient’ known as Rover. The decision to purchase Rover did not serve either BMW or Rover well in the six years of BMW’s stewardship. It also brought about the eventual end of Bernd Pischetsreider’s career at BMW.

It seemed that BMW had purchased Rover based on emotion, rather than cold hard logic. Pischetreider is a noted Anglophile and thought the world of the Rover brand. Rover’s emblem, the Viking longboat, hinted at the shared historical ties between northern European countries. And Rover’s brand image had been very good up until it eliminated the Austin brand for its low priced entries. (And BMW’s purchase of Dixi in 1928, which license built Austin 7s, came full circle with the purchase of Rover.)

Editorial: MINI, the Pearl in the Shell That Was Rover

In addition BMW had hoped that the Rover brand could help preserve BMW’s independence. BMW feared being gobbled up by a bigger entity, and felt that annual production of two million units would guarantee it. Rover would have become a premium product that would appeal to the 80% of premium buyers that wouldn’t consider a BMW. (And that’s a dirty little secret– BMW’s brand image appeals to a smaller segment of the luxury market than say Mercedes or Lexus. The part we adore, a perceived luxurious sportiness, doesn’t have as wide of an appeal as luxury and comfort without sportiness.)

If BMW could have revived Rover and successfully sold it outside the UK, we wouldn’t be talking about front wheel drive BMWs today. But Rover was on its deathbed even before BMW purchased it. And in the end, a small, overlooked, archaic relic of a car, the Mini, may have been the best thing BMW could salvage from the purchase.

The iconic Mini first appeared in 1957. The work of Alec Issigonis, the Mini took the world by storm in the swinging sixties. It was a transformational automobile, full of innovative technical details, it’s only rival for size of impact in the automotive world is the Ford Model T (and no, the VW Beetle doesn’t even come close).

The odd thing was the Mini almost bombed. The styling was off putting to the generation that survived WW II. It took the serendipitous intervention of Princess Margaret and her husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones, to popularize the car. Princess Margaret was a wildly popular figure to British baby boomers, and her appearances in the Mini gave Mini the cachet it needed to sell.

When BMW purchased Rover, the Mini brand was an afterthought at best. The car had been updated in its original format to its conclusion. To survive more stringent crash standards and demands for more creature comforts, the Mini was going to have to be completely redesigned. Rover, before BMW, had no money to effectively do that. But somewhere in BMW’s management team, the seed of a Mini rebirth was planted. It was truly an admired brand icon and that goodwill could be transferred to a new car as long as it could capture the magic of the old.

And the new Mini would have to sell in America. To make that happen, BMW would have to pull a rabbit from its hat and create an marketing campaign that would be the envy of corporations of every stripe – not just the automotive industry. And that’s just what BMW NA got when it selected Jack Pitney to head up that effort. If it wasn’t for Jack
Pitney, the MINI story might have finished in the same way as Rover.

We miss you Jack.

  • http://ebrake.blogpsot.com Andrew Murphy

    great article Hugo!

  • Wingroad

    what a load of rubbish, the Mini was engineered by Rover engineers then nicked by BMW when they cut and run !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

      Rover, operating under BA ownership was out of cash – they may have done the prelim engineering and drawings but they sure as hell didn’t get it into production. And remember, BMW purchased Rover in ’94, anything done after that date was blessed by BMW management.

    • Laszlo

      yes, they worked hard to make a new mini. But without BMW that would have been as good as any British car without a foreign engineer. Name one car that does not sux that is a real original true British car. You blokes can design a nice car with a perfect interior but can not screw together a wooden sled without it leaking oil, wracking havoc on the electronics, falling off trim pieces. It took a German BMW engineer to make that pile of stuff work and work well.
      Sorry but I have owned enough British vehicle in a past ( a very foolish one you might say) that I can say this for sure.
      Also not one British car company have made any money since the early 80’s. Not a coincidence, just people got tired of paying for a rubbish car/truck and looked elsewhere. So if the person who saved the Mini was the late Jack Pitney then praise his name and ask the queen to honor him !
      Aston, Rolls, Bentley, Jaguar, MG, Triumph, all beautiful cars horrible mechanical and rubbish electronics.

  • BMfan

    Well said. Good to recognise ingenuity and brilliance.
    People who rubbish articles like this are clueless and callous souls who have never run a business not to say, build a brand and succeed at it.
    R.I.P. Jack.

  • Wingroad

    0BMfan I am not clueless and callous just do not like seeing great British engineers who worked hard, for the Germans to take all the credit. Suggest you open your BMW tinted sunglasses to see the real world

  • BMfan

    @Wingroad, am not going to get involved with that aspect. Was looking at the whole brand building and marketing aspect without which the engineering side won’t see the light of day. Patriotic feelings run deep and I appreciate your possible point.

  • mpower

    im a brit and it hurts that our car industry was a laughing stock. and to my fellow brit. rover had 40 years to make a new mini and what they came up with was the metro. our problem was that we did no re-invest enough simple and are work force was always on the picket line. do you really think bmw would hand over money and that us brit loss. the styling was british, but the enginering was german muilt link suspesion, and mini was not the only pearl Ford seem to think range rover was a pearl worth 2 billon pounds.
    And to my friends in the usa dont forget you would only have ford as an american owed car company if it was not for your capitalist goverment adopting soialist measures. come to think about it were would the west be if it did not adopt things that we were told were bad. if a companying is failing save what you can and let it fail no point trying to fill a bucket riddled with holes

  • bob

    This ‘editorial’ would’ve been better managed as a ‘reply’ to Martin Birkmann’s tribute to Jack Pitney.

  • viper

    Interesting piece thanks Hugo.

  • tweer

    BMW bought Rover for Land Rovers 4X4 technology, the Mini brand was just a bonus.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

      Land Rover was a part of it, but the sales numbers of Land Rover would not have put BMW close to the ideal two million units a year, they needed the Rover brand to do that.

      But the Land Rover tech was a bonus for BMW (and the subsequent sale to Ford). It lead directly to the X5. However, Land Rover has/had vehicle with a true 4×4 (with a low range), unlike the AWD ‘soft-road’ BMW.

      There are some places where ‘true’ 4x4s are a godsend to own. But my old description of the value of a 4×4 still rings true, “four wheel drive will get you stuck in places you can’t get to in two wheel drive.” ; -)

      • tweer

        All BMWs HDC and offroad toys came from the boys in solihull.

  • Wingroad

    Jack Pitney would not have a job without engineers,British or otherwise.Without British engineers at Oxford you would not have a Mini anyway. It could have been a lot better without German interference, witness the Tritec engine replacing the K series engine or Hydragas being replaced by the cumbersome,heavy and costly multi link Z axle. See http://www.austinmemories.com/page46/page46.html for information about this and the Minki2 prototype.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

      Thanks for the link, and I’d urge everyone to go out and read it – doesn’t take long and it’s chock full of good information – it would be neat to see if the hydragas solution could be further developed.

      Alex Moulton is an engineer that doesn’t get his due. As I mentioned in the article, the original Mini was truly transformational and Moulton’s suspension was a key. The original Mini was expected to have a payload capacity equal to its kerb weight.

      Moulton, Fred Lanchester, and Maurice Olley are all examples of significant English engineers whose impact to automobiles is not properly recognized. It’s a shame more enthusiasts know so little about them.

      FWIW, I have a buddy that has a Moulton bike. : -)

  • Quincey Pitney

    Thank you Hugo! Jack had a love and passion for the brand that most could not possibly understand. His love was real. Believe me I heard about it every day of our marriage.

    • bob

      Sorry for your loss. :-(

      I trust BMW NA passed along the cards & letters…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

      Quincey, thanks for sharing Jack with the world’s car fanatics!

    • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

      Sorry for your loss! Jack was a great man.

  • Wooo hoo.

    …The corn in the turd is more like it.

  • Wingroad

    Thanks for pointing out the link Hugo,if you want to read more about British engineering,good and bad, go to http://www.aronline.co.uk.This is a site I thoroughly recommend.
    Sorry if I upset some of you, but you see there is always 2 sides to a story and that BMW do not always get things right,witness their management of Rover.

  • Wingroad

    @Hugo, just had a thought.
    I think that BMW researched hydragas inthe 1980’s before they took on Rover If I get Alex Moultons book I will let you know if the book confirms it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

      There is very little new under the sun in the automotive world. I firmly believe that the only major post WW II advancements in technology are in metallurgy (through in CF for good measure, also) and electronics – everything else had been tried.

      Witness the fact that Fred Lanchester had dabbled with direct gasoline injection in the 1920s, or that Peugeot developed the DOHC grand prix engine in 1912 (much to the consternation of all the folks that want to tell us how much more up-to-date OHC engines are compared to push rods ;-).

      Engineering has to deliver a solution to to physical problem at a certain price point. Marketing has to get a potential buyer to think that the transaction utility of a purchase of that ‘engineered to a cost’ item is favorable to them. ; -)

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