BMW’s Mini Brand Launches Custom Roof Designer Online

Evaluation of the new roof design toolkit and some ideas for improvements and additions

Driving a BMW-Mini often is seen as the ultimate expression of individualism. People paying the extra premium for a small, but fun car often select a Mini to express their individual lifestyle and to set themselves ahead from the crowd. For me, this always seemed to be a bit a contradiction, as I have seen very few really “cool” people driving a Mini, and at least in Germany, Mini drivers seem to follow a general pattern of belonging to a conservative upper middle-class medium aged segment living in larger cities. (I have, however, to admit that driving a Mini really is fun and a very nice experience).

Also, from a mass customization point of view, a Mini has rather limited customization offerings. While the configurator suggests plenty of choice options, they are rather limited, especially with regard to style customization like color combinations between body, roof, and interior. All choices seem to be perfectly balanced to deliver neatly tuned combinations fitting the Mini brand image as seen by its corporate parents.

Mini Roof DesignerBut now, there is ultimate choice. Customers now can freely design the Mini’s roof with their very own design. The roof is one of the signature design features of the Mini. It is often selected in a different color than the body. And now you not only can select from 15 or so standard colors, but really design your own, as the German weekly Der Spiegel reports in its online edition.

Enter the Mini Roof Designer, a very well done playful online design toolkit that allows you to generate your own roof design. The configurator is full of nice gimmicks providing a great experience, but not really helping you to come up with a better design. As far as I could evaluate this configuration toolkit, this – in the moment – is a pure marketing gimmick. You can design your roof and save it, but that’s it.

According to the regularly well informed Der Spiegel, however, you also can order very soon your individual design in form a custom-made foil with your individual pattern that your Mini dealer will fix on your roof. (and in the Carscoop blog I read that the orders are available only in Italy for the time being, Germany will follow in June, Austria in the third quarter, with further countries being added later).

Given the high prices for extras for the Mini, 400 Euros for this service seem to be not too expensive. I bet there even will be fans ordering their custom roof stickers without even owning a Mini. And I am looking forward to see all the really custom designs printed on Mini cars and how they match the look of their owners. Have a look in the gallery of the Roof Configurator to see what I mean.

Nice idea. Some thoughts I had while playing around with the configurator how to improve this offering :

(1) It will be interesting to see if and how Mini approves all designs and whether there will be limits of what people can print. For the online gallery publicly showing your saved design, a manual approval process takes place. After I saved my Mini, the system told me that it will take ONE WEEK to approve my design before it is online. Hey, we are in an online, real-time, instant gratification world and the automotive industry is talking about the Three-Day-Car http://www.3daycar.com/!!

(2) It is rather difficult to come up with a nice design. The system offers many tools, but as an average user without design skills, it is difficult to come up with something creative. Easy-to-modify starting designs are missing. Also, I would have loved to get some more inspirations, perhaps by famous designers sharing their own Mini roof. And if I would be a professional designer, I would love to be able to upload a design made in Photoshop or any other professional design program using a template provided by BMW.

(3) The custom Mini roof sounds like a perfect idea for a new Threadless clone . Let the best in the world design roofs in form of an open (ongoing) competition, and let the community of Mini fans and owners evaluate the designs and vote on the winners. Then produce these designs in limited editions and sell them within days.

(4) Or a modification of the Spreadshirt idea: Let users design roofs, and sell their individual designs to others. Designs are then individually printed, and designers get a share of the proceeds. Perhaps this also is a great after-sales tuning idea. Think of transferring the BEMZ idea of tuning IKEA sofas onto Mini roofs: Create custom Mini roof covers and sell them independently for 200 Euros. Given that about 1 Mio. New Minis have been sold, this sounds like a nice market opportunity.

So many opportunities for mass customization in the automotive industry. Let’s see what is happening next.

About the Author:

Frank T. Piller is a Co-Director of the MIT Smart Customization Group at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, and a chair professor of management at the Technology & Innovation Management Group of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, one of Europe’s leading institutes of technology. Before entering his recent position in Aachen, he worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management (2004-2007) and has been an associate professor of management at TUM Business School, Technische Universitaet Muenchen. Frequently quoted in The New York Times, The Economist, and Business Week, amongst others, Frank is regarded as one of the leading experts on strategies for customer-centric value creation, like mass customization, personalization, and innovation co-creation. His recent analysis of the crowdsourcing business model “Threadless” (co-authored with Susumu Ogawa), an innovative crowdsourcing business model in the fashion industry, has been elected as one of the Top-20 articles in MIT Sloan Management Review.