Unlikely relationships that yield astonishingly positive results: a dachshund raising a group of abandoned tiger cubs, rapper 50 Cent and actress Meryl Streep chuckling courtside at a New York Knicks game, and BMW and Toyota working together.
The symbiosis started in 2003, when Mini launched its first diesel version powered by a Toyota engine. Eight years later, the automakers got back together and signed an extensive cooperation agreement: BMW would supply diesel engines to Toyota as well as develop and build the rear-wheel-drive Supra coupe replacement, which will be twinned with the BMW Z4 roadster replacement, and Toyota would offer its fuel cell know-how in exchange.
Most recently, the two manufacturers began evaluating a venture into entry-level hatchbacks. For BMW’s near-premium brand Mini, that would mean an all-new Minor (shown here in renderings). “It´s still early days as far as the baby Mini goes,” says a source from Mini. “But when our new R&D board member Klaus Fröhlich traveled to America early in the new year, this was one of the subjects on his agenda.”
The Minor—its name dating back to 1959 when the original Issigonis design was first marketed as Austin Seven and Morris Mini Minor—would likely cost between $14,500 and $16,000. Early styling exercises combine elements from the Paceman and the Rocketman concept. There are fresh proportions and plenty of new details—like a double-bubble rear roof section, upright “Union Jack” taillights, a small trapezoidal grille, and blacked out pillars—and sources say the Minor is “pleasantly short on bling.”
As far as size, the Euro-only Toyota Aygo could be a suitable donor car, but Mini won’t have it. Not only because the next-generation Aygo won’t be around before 2020 but also because BMW can’t allow Mini to adopt a badge-engineered product conceived and built by a third party. Instead, Toyota and BMW are looking into an all-new bargain basement effort that can be integrated in the Mini family. To keep costs and weight at bay, engineers will simultaneously have to focus on de-contenting and downsizing. No easy task, mind you, seeing how electromobility is said to play an important role in this build.
The Minor will be one of five new Minis that Peter Schwarzenbauer, board member in charge of Mini, Rolls-Royce, and BMW’s two-wheeled Motorrad division, intends to install as pillars of the brand. While he’s been reluctant to go into detail, we tapped company and supplier sources and established a shortlist describing the key protagonists.
Two: The all-new Mini Clubman, due out this summer. It will still have side-hinged rear doors, but the one-and-a-quarter side doors give way to a more practical if thoroughly conventional four-door arrangement.
Three: The next Mini Countryman that comes in 2016. It should be more SUV-like in ability and design, and a plug-in hybrid variant is possible.
Four: The Superleggera roadster, earmarked for early 2018. Mini is keen to adopt the complex one-off plug-in technology featured in the 2014 design exercise (electric motor up front, combustion engine driving the rear wheels), but its unclear if that set-up will work with the modular front- and all-wheel-drive platform underpinning most Minis.
And five: The Minor, of course, the latest idea to spring out of the well formed by BMW and Toyota’s unlikely relationship that continues to yield astonishing results.
With rebirth comes death
The MiniVan, a big, chunky, 177-inch-long people mover that had been tipped for production, will likely never see its day, and time is up for Mini’s current two-seaters, the Roadster and Coupe, and the complete-flop Paceman, which should be no more than not-so-fond memories by 2019.