Mini-celebration is called for

Everyone likes a good milestone and companies are always quick to remind us when their product reaches one.

You know the type of thing: ‘If you laid end-to-end all the KitKats ever made they would reach to the Moon… You could fill the Grand Canyon with all the Harry Potter books printed to date… The value of Tesco Clubcard points collected every year now equals the gross domestic product of Luxembourg.’

Facts and figures like these (fictional) examples are good fun but sometimes a milestone pops up that is actually worth a minor celebration. That should actually be a mini-celebration, because last week the millionth Mini rolled off the production line at Cowley since BMW rescued the famous marque from the wreckage of MG Rover in 2000.

The ‘new’ Mini, as it was known at the time, is now an established success story and it is hard to remember what a risk the German car giant took with its bid to reinvent a British motoring institution for the 21st century.

After becoming public enemy number one in the Birmingham area thanks to its decision to pull the plug on MG Rover, BMW badly needed some good news. However, the company had no track record to speak of in the smaller car market, an area some observers believed was already saturated.

Then there was the issue of messing around with an icon, always a risky business and one that has left many a company with egg on its face. There would undoubtedly have been some nerves in the Bavarian boardroom. At the time, there was even speculation that some sort of marque swap was on the cards between BMW and VW, with the former handing over the Mini brand in return for Bentley.

Interviews with BMW bosses at the time revealed a stubborn insistence that a combination of quality engineering, brand heritage and clever design would add up to a winning formula for which consumers around the world would pay a premium price. In the event they were proved right and few would argue that BMW did a better job in reinventing the Mini than VW managed with its own iconic small car, the Beetle.

Great for BMW – but the real winner is the UK car industry. So often portrayed as shrouded in gloom, the Mini operation is a microcosm of the automotive sector that has quietly and efficiently gone about its business, despite the undoubted setbacks that will afflict any major industry.

More companies make cars in the UK than anywhere else in the world. The Mini and its associated production facilities, like the many Japanese operating effectively in the UK, give us many reasons to feel good about our manufacturing base for a change.

Andrew Lee, editor