2009 FRANKFURT MOTOR SHOW: Mini embraces quirks

Mini chief designer defends unique interior.

I am not a fan of the Mini Cooper’s radio interface, where the volume-control button is in a different, lower, section of the center stack from the rest of the stereo controls, sitting all by itself. Many people have also criticized the current Mini’s huge, exaggerated round speedometer at the top of the center stack, but Gert Hildebrand, head of Mini design, says “it’s not exaggerated” while acknowledging that a fix is in the works for the volume-control knob. Jim McDowell, head of Mini USA, concurs that the volume-control knob fix is needed even as Hildebrand jokes that “the weakest point of the car is the driver.” His point, which I concede to an extent, is that owners of Minis quickly become accustomed to the location of the volume-control knob, even though a similar knob located on the same vertical plane is used to turn the stereo on. He continues: “the question always is, should every car do everything the same way, so that every car is the same? Or should they be different [to create and retain character]? This is not to say that we should be different solely for the sake of being different, but I have to say that, when I get into a BMW, I have to [learn how to] adjust the volume, also.”

Hours before the Mini Coupe Concept is unveiled at the Frankfurt show, Hildebrand expounds on the Mini design philosophy and is asked about other carmakers, such as Fiat with its new 500, trying to capture some of the Mini magic. “Being copied is the biggest honor,” he responds, “but being copied also means that you have to run fast. Fortunately, we can develop a complete family within Mini over time, because we have the resources, the time, and the people to do it.” As for those carmakers who are tempted to try and copy Mini, Hildebrand advises: “Copying does not last. You can only do it once. And then how do you [follow it up]?”

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