Rumor: The Rocketman is Back

Much has been written on the Rocketman on these pages. Earlier this year our sources had told us that the car was undergoing feasibility studies with an eye to bring it to market on the back of a Toyota platform. Ever since MINI Design head Gert Hildebrand and Exterior Design head Marcus Syring dreamt up the idea of the Rocketman while waiting for a delayed flight at a New York airport, there’s been a powerful movement within the company to get it built. While the initial design study was seen as a major success, it died on the vine due to BMW not wanting to invest in a city car version of the forthcoming UKL platform. More specifically BMW didn’t believe the sales volume would ever make up the initial investment unless they sold the car for the same price as the F56 – which to many would be unacceptable.

But lucky for us that didn’t stop the enthusiasm inside MINI for making a city car. And now we have our first promising public quote from MINI Design Chief Anders Warming on the topic.

Auto Express asked him about the Rocketman and got this surprisingly candid answer:

Warming suggested to us that the Rocketman was still on the table. “For sure, a MINI should always be a small car, so [a new city car] would be appropriate for the brand,” he said. “At the moment, we don’t have the right tech solutions, but we are working on it. We don’t yet have a final solution, you could say.”

While the Rocketman was based on a lightweight carbon fibre construction, Warming hinted future MINIs won’t use carbon like the BMW i3 and M4 to save weight. “I don’t believe carbon fibre is the route to a superlight MINI,” he told us. “Our concepts have had carbon parts, but aluminium is more likely. We want to reduce parts, to do more with less.”

That matches up well with what we believe is currently happening at MINI. As we reported earlier this year, MINI is working through an internal proposal of a vehicle smaller than the current F56 two door hatch. The smaller model, similar in size to the Rocketman concept is being conceived as both a three and five door hatch and will likely be based on partnering with another automaker. Who that automaker is we don’t know but once again it would make sense for Toyota to be involved. BMW and Toyota have recently become technical partners in several ventures around hybrid and hydrogen technology not to mention that they are designed at least one sports car together for a release later this decade.

toyota-iq

Given that type of collaboration it wouldn’t be out of bounds for BMW to have direct input into the next generation Toyota Aygo (16″ shorter than the current F56) or even the iQ (which is a full 33″ shorter). That direct input would be directed towards making sure resulting MINI feel as gokart like as possible and accommodate either a 1.5L three cylinder MINI engine or something even smaller co-developed with Toyota.

Why is MINI so eager to produce something smaller than the F56? The brand is born out of a less is more philosophy and a few internally at MINI are concerned that the current product range doesn’t make that point clear enough. A small city car could serve as both a price leader and a halo vehicle that better exemplifies the brand ethos than the current hatch.

According to sources we expect a sneak peek at this new small MINI in concept form late this year or early next.

  • RakSiam

    Yay! As one who has complained about MINIs’ ever-expanding size this is exciting news

  • Between this and the Superleggera, MINI could have a really intelligent, exciting and appealing lineup in the future.

  • Elias

    This is the car BMW should have released from the beginning to relaunch the MINI brand. People might have been less critical of the bigger cars that way… Here’s what I would like to have seen from MINI: A-segment city car: MINI 3-door -Rocketman size- hatch B-segment supermini: MINI Clubman (3-door hatch with two club doors like the BMW i3) B-segment supermini: MINI Traveller (5-door hatch like the current F55) MX-5 size roadster: MINI Paceman (the production version of the Superleggera) B-segment crossover: MINI Countryman (a 5-door version of the current Paceman)

  • minicooperracer

    Not going to count on it but would be great if they did from a fan point of view. I do like how subtle things from the concept years ago have made it into the line up already. Headlights, front bumper, the heads up display, the toggle start button and even the shift knob are all nearly identical to what is being rolled out now in the F56 and F55.

    Lots of clues were given in the Rocketman and frankly it looks fantastic. I would bet IF they did it, it would be 3 cylinders only and no S version. I am willing to bet they would get a lot of old customers back though…

  • SPICYJCWCOUPE

    Although my next (3rd) MINI will likely be the F55S late this year or early 2015 after having a ’08 MCS & ’12 JCW Coupe, I think it would be great to have the Rocketman in the lineup!!! Put the 3cyl in it & knock 300 lbs off the weight compared to the base F56 MINI, it would have buyers lining up!

  • Sharon Santore-Fayash

    We’ve been told the reason for the increased front and rear over hangs on the latest models is due to safety standards. How will this car be able to pass crash tests?

    • I the only way it’ll be possible is if they use the novel engine in dash approach of the Toyota IQ.

      • The i3 was designed with R50-like overhang and it still meets PIS because it has a rear engine-ish?

    • Neither the front nor the rear were about vehicle crash standards. The front was about pedestrian impact standards (which got more stringent since the R56) and the rear was simply about more boot space. As for the core of your question – the front overhang – the Rocketman could be within the limits depending entirely on where the engine would be located. Adherence to the regs is all about there being minimum distance between the “soft” parts of the front of the car and the “hard” chassis and engine components under the hood. So it will all depend on the underlying platform, which would be different than the F56. Thing is, needing to create that space between the front of the car and the harder underpinnings (specifically the engine) is directly at odds with pushing the wheels to the corners in a FWD vehicle because you want the engine as in-line with the driveshafts as possible. Add to that a desire to minimize torque steer and these factors conspire for there to be a little more nose on the F56. Could they have engineered it with more priority on overhang? Sure, but there is no free lunch. Other factors would have to be compromised instead. Everything from steering feel to cost of production. So when we look at the Rocketman, it’s a whole new equation. The outcome of all those factors might equal a smaller overhang. Then again, they might not. We won’t know until (and if) we see the car go into production.

  • Mr Remi

    This is very, very exciting. I love that Mini is looking at going mini. Hopefully Toyota can help them get there.

  • ulrichd

    This not my original line but I always liked it: Shut up and take my money 🙂 Rocketman now.

  • “For sure, a MINI should always be a small car…” he said. “At the moment, we don’t have the right tech solutions”

    Read: The Rocketman’s back…on the back burner?

    • Nick Dawson

      You are right to be cynical Matthew and of course Rocketman is not back. For the record, Rocketman was, unashamedly, a self indulgent intellectual concept, showcasing what could be achieved if money was no object, but no business case was ever made for it.

      The reality is that a premium city car is on BMW’s ‘wish list’ of vehicles that it would love to build if it could make a sound business case for them. The problem is that no premium city car platform currently exists, and finding a partner who is willing to take a huge business risk in sharing the development costs is proving to be difficult.

      • “a premium city car is on BMW’s ‘wish list'”

        Hi Nick. Having zero contacts within MINI or BMW, this is what I find so vexing. Among all the brands on the road, MINI should be spearheading a premium city car movement.

        • Been reading a little about markets lately and I think the business case BMW would need to make, and likely can’t, is summed up in one basic question: Can BMW/MINI build a realistically priced “premium city car” that is more than merely incrementally better than other city cars? That is, can they build one that’s objectively an order of magnitude better than the other cars they’d compete with in this tiny market space?

        • “can [MINI} build one that’s objectively an order of magnitude better than the other cars they’d compete with in this tiny market space?”

          I say yes in spades. MINI, with BMW, has the power of its brand and the engineering excellence (I don’t use that word loosely) to do exactly that. Build and offer a the best city car that stands on premium, sporty and non-derivative values.

          Again, this might well be where my minority status in the MINI community reveals itself, but Just Enough Is More. I want just enough car. That means “less car” than the competition, and now MINI, offers, and I’m willing to pay for it.

        • I should clarify, I meant that question in an entirely engineering-oriented way. I think they could certainly build a city car that was 20-30% better than anything in the space, but not 10X better. I’m talking how much better the Tesla Model S is than the Nissan Leaf. I’m doubtful that BMW could afford to make the investment it would take to create that kind of technological lead. Even if they did, cornering the “premium city car market” might still not be a large enough customer base to actually recoup their investments, let alone be sustainably profitable.

        • Despite the fact that both Tesla and MINI market their cars with the word “premium”, I don’t see a valid comparison between the two. BMW and Tesla, of course, but not MINI.

          MINI does not need to build a city car that is 10x better than the Leaf. A significantly smaller F56 (4-seat) would fit the bill, and MINI’s brand would infuse meaning into it that neither Nissan nor any other brand could possibly do,