The MINI Plant Tour is an incredible experience for anyone with an interest in MINIs. It's absolutely a must for any owner. The tour was put on a brief hiatus as the plant retooled for the cabrio but is again open for business as of just a few weeks ago. The tour has become so popular since that I was told it's booked solid until June! So if you're planning a trip to the UK and want to experience it first hand I'd recommend giving a call or sending them asap. You can find out more in this recent article: MINI Plant Tours.
The tour started with a look at the final production stage of the MINI. We first saw cars coming off the line and progressively went backwards in the life of the cars. We were able to see the “associates”
(MINI-speak for plant worker) fitting the final trim to the interior of
The Cabrio had just started going down the line last Tuesday and the
first customer cars were be produced Thursday. I was able to check many
out in various stages of completion. The roof comes in crated and
pre-assembled for installation. It's made by a company called Oasys
right in the UK.
A handful of associates seemed to be having quite an intensive
discussion about one silver Cooper Cabrio going down the assembly line
right at the point there the roof is raised. I could be wrong but I
thought I heard some German accents mixed in with some English ones
during this exchange – something I found throughout the Plant visit.
While I did manage to see about every Cooper Cabrio color variation I
didn't see any MCS convertibles going down the assembly line. However
from what I gathered final production test vehicles should soon be on
the roads so they should be in the factory in the not too distant
The parts for the cars are delivered in what are essentially crates
and then installed into each MINI as they pass down the line. Every
MINI gets a print out of it's full spec telling each associate what are
the appropriate options for each car. In the case of larger items like
wheels they travel in a separate line and meet up with their appropriate
car at the time of installation. Really quite an intricate process that
is amazing to watch.
The MINI is such an individual car that production tends to be quite
unique. For instance the dash is brought in completely assembled with
all the appropriate options. MINI found early on it would be nearly
impossible to create it on the line since there are over 4 million
possible configurations (on the dash alone!).
Quality control at the plant is rigorous and taken very seriously.
10% of all cars are tested every day and those results are scrutinized
to find out if there are any issues with the production process or parts
going into the cars.
There was both a Red Cabrio and a Silver hatchback in the quality
control area. They had been pulled off the line to assess the overall
workmanship and quality of the components. They were located in a
walled off area just beyond the final assembly point. There were graphs
and charts of all kinds showing data associated with what seemed to be
weekly and daily production. They also had taken photos of past problem
areas and posted them on the walls for examples to compare to. It was
all fairly obvious stuff like (gaps between interior pieces for example)
but it was really nice to see that level of detail achieved in a sub 20k
The US cars were very easily recognized as they are the only ones
with the front and rear side reflectors and turn signals. I happened to
notice one particular US bound Red/White MCS that was specced without
any options whatsoever. I happen to take particular notice of the
interior being fitted and the doors bring installed. Whoever the
eventual owner of this MINI would be (for that matter all MINIs) happy
to note that the associate doing the work was particularly careful with
the installation of the interior trimming. It was really something to
watch because while it could be considered a monotonous task they all
took their time and seemed to be paying close attention to detail.
MINI has also made quite a few production and spec Improvements over
three years. The MINI production and interior fittings (as many of us
with early cars may realize) has been an evolving process. For instance
the heat shield was recently altered to eliminate a faint rattle sound
that seemed to be coming from deep within the dash. What they found was
as the car heated up it the shield expanded and allowed it to waver very
slightly. This created what sounded like a small rattle at certain
times. A slight angle change to the bend of the heat shield has since
cured this issue. From an owners point of view it's really nice to know
that MINI is constantly finding ways to improve the production process
and as a result the cars.
Speaking with an employee who had had 15 MINIs in three years as
corporate cars he completely agreed. He said new cars have many unseen
improvements that in sum make the newer MINIs feel just slightly more
solid. It's something that anyone who has a 2001/2002 feels when the
drive a new MINI.
Those that I spoke with in the know at the plant had no news on a new
windshield coming to alleviate the cracking and pitting issues many of
us have experienced. That being said they wouldn't really know until
the design had been completed and the production about the start.
According to several long time employees I spoke with, associates
have generally found BMW to be very committed to them and the plant as a
whole. This is something that they hadn't always seen with previous
owners of the plant. Further they are excited by the committment,
product, and attention to quality. I was told also that they seem to
really take pride in the product and are very excited and proud at the
overall success it has achieved. Again all good things to hear from an
owners point of view. Of course this point was also obvious when you
look at the number of new MINIs in the car parks surrounding the
The plant at Oxford once employed over 28,000 locals in it's heyday
and parts of it are over 100 years old. It's manufactured everything
from Rolls Royce to the BMW engineered Rover 75 in the late 90's. Even
though it's a shadow of it former self at around 4000 employees, the
surrounding area seems to take quite a bit of pride in the fact that the
MINI is made locally.
That being said, according to a source at the plant one of the
hardest things for MINI is finding enough qualified people in the
surrounding area to actually work there. Apparently unemployment is
rather low right now in some parts of Oxfordshire and finding skilled
workers isn't as easy as one would think.
In the second portion of the tour we saw MINI's being welded and
riveted together. While less exciting than the final production stages
it did offer an interesting glimpse into what's underneath it all. The
Cabrio for example has three millimeter thick lower side frames (located
just below the doors) as oppose to approximately one millimeter for the
standard 3 door MINI. I actually could see and feel the difference as
they had both models with no interior or exterior fittings in the front
of this portion of the plant available for hands on inspection.
Here's a few miscellaneous observations form the tour:
- The average car take 24 hours to produce – unless there's a roof decal. In that case it take much longer to make sure the roof
fully cures and dries.
- The tour guides were very consious of who is in the plant. We even
had to wear tape over all rings to reduce the possibility of any
- My lord Electric Blue Cooper's must be very popular in other parts of
the world – I saw a ton of them during my tour.
Unfortunately MINI doesn't allow cameras into the tour other than the
welcome center. While I could have easily snuck some pics with my
trusty Pentax Optio S4 I wanted to fully respect our hosts and abide by
their wishes. However I did manage to snap some shots of the exterior
and welcome center. You can check them out here.
The MINI plant tour is simply a must for any MINI enthusiast. It not
only has made me look at MINIs a little differently but also made me
understand more fully what goes into the production process of our cars.
It's highly recommended to anyone living in the UK or traveling there in
the near future.