Mini Clubman project manager: Moment I knew the car was a true Brit

Time 12:32 pm, October 30, 2015

AS PROJECT manager for the new Mini Clubman, Dr Ernst Fricke headed up a talented and highly qualified team of designers, engineers and other product specialists.

Getting the car to the stage where it was ready to be built was, not surprisingly, a long, complicated and hugely involved process.

It was when the first cars were rolling off the production lines at Mini’s Oxford factory that Fricke knew he and his team had succeeded in their mission.

Speaking exclusively to Car Dealer recently, Fricke said: ‘When we came to the plant to build the first cars, the associates on the shop floor came to me and said, ‘‘I love it!’’

‘And these were people who had been building the three-door version for generations. I was pleased because the people who might have given me the toughest test in terms of acceptance said they loved it. I could tell they had the passion to bring it to a perfect launch.’

P90187441_highResOf course, Mini is a beautiful British brand now owned by BMW, and Fricke added: ‘If I ever had a doubt over whether new Clubman was British enough or not, it was at that point that I realised that it was a British Mini and that we had managed to keep it true to its roots.

‘That’s also why we decided to make it at Oxford. We had the smaller three-door Mini on one line and we are building the Clubman on the same line, in fact. Cars from two different sectors are normally on different lines.’

The point Fricke makes is an interesting one because Mini’s new Clubman marks the brand’s first foray into the competitive premium compact segment – and company bosses clearly have high hopes for its success.

The car is the largest member of the new Mini generation, as the brand seeks to position itself further upmarket. It is 27 centimetres longer and nine centimetres wider than the Mini five-door, and its wheelbase is 10 centimetres longer.

It scores highly in the practicality stakes with a luggage compartment boasting a volume of 360 litres, which can be extended to as much as 1,250 litres by folding down the rear backrest with its optional 40:20:40 split. The company say it offers the highest levels of everyday practicality, refinement over long distances, versatility and comfort ever seen in a Mini.

Clubman also offers several features that appear in a Mini for the first time. These include an electric parking brake, eight-speed Steptronic gearbox – available as an option depending on the model – electrical seat adjustment and the option of ‘Mini Yours’ interior styles with backlit door bezels.

And despite the fact it’s been supersized, its small-car credentials have been retained. Fricke told us: ‘It has to look like a Mini and it has to drive like a Mini. If it looked like a Mini but didn’t feel like a Mini, we’d be doomed.’

The car launches nationwide in the UK tomorrow.

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Dave Brown's avatar

Dave, production editor on Car Dealer Magazine, is a journalist with more than 30 years' experience in the worlds of newspapers, magazines and public relations.

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