The original in the premium segment of small cars has reached its 60th birthday – but it is even younger than ever. It was sixty years ago, to be precise on 26 August 1959, that British Motor Corporation (BMC) proudly revealed the result of their development activities in creating a new, revolutionary compact car.
Made in England
The first Mini was an Austin Seven coming off the production line in Austin’s Longbridge Plant in Birmingham on 4 April 1959. The team of twins was subsequently completed five weeks later, the first Morris Mini-Minor leaving the Morris Plant in Oxford on 8 May. The two models were presented to the public together for the first time on 26 August 1959. Despite their different origin, the Austin Seven and the Morris Mini-Minor were virtually identical, the only distinctions on the outside being their radiator grilles, the wheel caps and body colours: The Austin Seven was available in Tartan Red, Speedwell Blue, and Farina Grey, the Morris Mini-Minor came in Cherry Red, Clipper Blue, and Old English White.
Production at the two plants continued for ten years with the model built in Longbridge bearing the name Austin Mini as of 1962. Plant Oxford, which had been building cars since 1913, built exactly 602, 817 units during this period, all of them the basic version of the four-seater. All other model variants ranging from the Mini Van through the Mini Pick-Up all the way to the Morris Mini-Traveller and Austin Seven Countryman were built in Longbridge. In 1969 all production activities were concentrated at the Longbridge Plant, with the model range being streamlined and Mini becoming the brand name for this revolutionary compact car. So the days of the twin brothers (or sisters?) were over once and for all.
A million cars in six years: the MINI repeats the rapid start of the classic Mini.
With the brand being re-positioned in 2001 under the guidance of the
BMW Group and production of the modern MINI starting as planned, it was only obvious that MINI had to move back to Oxford, the plant so rich in tradition thus once again becoming the starting point for a genuine revolution in the small car market. And like the classic Mini, the MINI made a remarkable start into the market exceeding all expectations: within just six years, Plant Oxford built no less than a million units of the MINI. This was indeed just as long as the classic Mini had taken to exceed the one-million mark, but back then production was still at two plants.
After 41 years and a production volume of more than 5.3 million units, the last classic Mini left Plant Longbridge on 4 October 2000. Since the decision to build the modern MINI in Oxford had already been taken half a year before, only nine months remained from then on to the start of MINI pre-production and just 13 months to the start of actual series production. Clearly, therefore, the roughly 2,500 employees in Oxford at the time and their colleagues from BMW Plant Regensburg supporting the modernisation process faced a great challenge and a truly tight timetable in making this new start into the market.
MINI production in Oxford according to the strict quality standards of the BMW Group.
The BMW Group had already invested some £ 280 million in the Rover Plant in Oxford back in 1996/1997, thoroughly modernising the Bodyshop and Final Assembly. Another project also completed back then was a state-of-the-art Paintshop, at the time the second-largest construction project in Great Britain following the Millennium Dome. And now this was followed by further investments amounting to some £ 230 million serving to modernise and re-structure the plant.
All this made Oxford one of the most modern car production plants in the world, boasting cutting-edge technology specifically for the production of the MINI. No less than 229 production robots were installed at the time to build the body-in-white, with a laser measuring system serving to check the body of the MINI down to a precision of no less than 0.05 millimetres. The Paintshop was likewise custom-built for the requirements of MINI production, not only allowing very precise and environmentally friendly application of the paint, but also providing the contrasting paint finish on the roof so typical of the MINI Cooper.
Oxford also became the first European car production plant to make exclusive use of electrical tools in final assembly, while the KISS (Core Production Integrating Management System) serves to fully automate communication in the production process by using the most advanced information technology. In this process the complete production of each individual model is electronically documented from the body-in-white all the way to final assembly, again ensuring that every MINI complies with the supreme quality standards of the BMW Group.
Team work for premium quality: The MINI Production Triangle.
When production of the new edition of the MINI was launched in autumn of 2006, the production facilities in Oxford (Bodyshop, Paintshop and Assembly), Swindon (Pressings) and Hams Hall (Engine Production) were integrated in the MINI Production Triangle for the first time. Body panels have been produced in Swindon, some 70 kilometres west of Oxford, since 1954. Today, pre-assembled body components such as lids and doors for the MINI Bodyshop are manufactured at Plant Oxford. Since 2001, the plant at Hams Hall near Birmingham has been the BMW Group’s Competence Centre for the production of four-cylinder petrol engines with a capacity of up to 2.0 litres. The plant delivers petrol engines directly to Oxford – just in time and just in sequence, that is at exactly the right time and in the right sequence for final assembly.
After 60 years: Ten million MINIs produced.
Capacity that started in 2001 as 300 vehicles manufactured each day has now increased to production output of around 1 000 units per day. Every 67 seconds, a workforce of 4 500 employees manufactures a MINI – each one of them is an ambassador for its idea, its country and its zest for life. In 2019, 60 years of the brand’s existence was celebrated in Oxford alongside a landmark production anniversary. The ten millionth vehicle of the brand rolled off the assembly line at the traditional site with an illustrious heritage: a MINI 3 Door from the 60 Years Edition.
Since 2000, the BMW Group has invested more than two billion pounds sterling in its production facilities in the United Kingdom. Recently, final assembly was expanded at the MINI Plant Oxford and a new paintshop was built. The latest investments have been channelled into the MINI Cooper SE. From November 2019, the first all-electric powered model manufactured by the brand will be produced at the MINI Plant Oxford.
Global growth strategy: Expansion of production capacities.
The models MINI 3 Door, MINI 5 Door and MINI Clubman are currently being produced at the MINI Plant Oxford. In order to take account of the continuous increase in demand, the BMW Group reached a decision in 2014 on contracted-out production of MINI models at the contract producer VDL Nedcar based in Born, Netherlands. MINI is therefore the only automaker to have series vehicles produced under contract manufacture in the Netherlands. The BMW Group benefits from the logistically advantageous location of the VDL Nedcar plant in the Born and its proximity to the British production triangle with locations in Oxford, Swindon and Hams Hall. The MINI Convertible and MINI Countryman models currently roll off the assembly line in Born.
In addition, the BMW Group and Chinese automobile manufacturer Great Wall concluded a joint-venture agreement in 2018. This covers a number of areas including the production of all-electric powered MINI vehicles for the Chinese market. A joint manufacturing facility is also scheduled for construction in the Chinese province of Jiangsu.
Words and images : mini.co.uk | media centre 2019