By on November 20, 2009

Well, you get the picture... (courtesy: yahoo cars ireland

After the 1 series, BMW pretty much committed themselves to the smallest car, because it was the smallest number, they were going to make under the BMW marque. Or did they? You see, there is actually another number lower than 1 and BMW plan to release a series of cars based on that number. Now we’ve known this for some time, but put forward a very real scenario. Since the 0 series will be smaller than the 1 series, that means it will go head to head with BMW’s other marque, the Mini. Now, one could be optimistic and say that 2 cars under different brands could grab a bigger slice of the market or, one could be realistic and say that cannibalisation is afoot. BMW aren’t stupid, which brings forward the very real possibility that BMW could phase out the Mini brand. At top production rates, Mini produce 240000 vehicles a year. That’s niche levels. And who wouldn’t want a BMW badge instead of a Mini? Yes, there may be a few “Italian Job” fans upset and a couple of “Germans kill iconic brand” headlines in the UK gutter press, but when you think about it, it kind of makes sense. At least as long as a front-wheel drive BMW doesn’t strike you as too blasphemous (and BMW doesn’t seem to have a problem crossing that Rubicon). So now TTAC posits a question to the B&B: Does the world really need Mini? Are we hanging onto a brand which doesn’t fit viably in the today’s market?  Or is an FWD BMW the real mistake?

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36 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: MINI or BMW Zero-Series?...”

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    No bloody way will they kill Mini. 240k units a year is not exactly niche.
    They’ll do both. Everyone is doing small cars.

    • 0 avatar

      And they can’t do worse than Toyota.
      1 Scion brand: 3 cars which all cannibalize each other (price range, power, size), and Yaris/Corolla/Matrix sales, too.
      I think the people who want the look of the Mini aren’t exactly the same as BMW lovers. Cute and British =/= austere, German, upscale.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. Beetles don’t canabaliza Golf sales for VW. Some people, especially teenage girls, will always prefer the MINI, while the wanabe pretentious dick will want the “0” series.

    • 0 avatar

      Paul +1: Mini is one of the few brands that has managed to succeed at premium small car  profitability in the US so something tells me they will be around for a while. Combine this with the global rush to make smaller cars and I can see a market for both. As to how well BMW will manage the zero series is another story altogether.

  • avatar

    Won’t that compete with the 2014 BMW (-)128i?

  • avatar

    Mini appears to still be selling very well in Seattle. Enough to justify a new dealer opening up very recently. A new car dealer. Opening up. Now… (!)  

    Admitted, its an affluent, enviro-friendly corner of the world where good feelings trump reason quite frequently… but that struck me as a sign the brand might be stronger than I’d assumed. The brand Mini has its own cache, and I’m not sure Mini buyers would be as content with owning a BMW-branded compact. Plus, with a larger more utilitarian model coming out soon (one that could tempt me into a lease), I imagine the company will continue to occupy and serve their niche well while cautiously expanding into new territory.

  • avatar

    Folding MINI into BMW would be a disaster. Much of MINI’s marketability is wrapped up in its history and image.  MINIs are cheeky, while BMWs are teutonically not cheeky.  Moreover, the brand is being expanded so the number of units sold will likely rise.
    A front wheel drive BMW may be a difficult sale, however.  But, that begs the question of how many orthodontists actually know which wheels power a car.  Obviously, enthusiasts will be outraged, but BMW seems to given less and less concern to them every day.

  • avatar

    A RWD 0-series wouldn’t be so bad, but a FWD one? Forget it.

    It is bad enough that we aren’t getting the 5 door 1 series because of the Clubman, but now they are going to directly compete with the Mini? Maybe they are thinking more along the lines of a Z1 type two seater without any back seat.

  • avatar

    The ‘1-Series’ in the pic looks, from the side, exactly like my red 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer.  I’m not sure that sort of company is one BMW is jonesing to keep.

  • avatar

    I think BMW would be crazy to throw away the Mini brand equity just so they could sell a BMW branded subcompact. I also agree with jconli1‘s assertion that Mini intenders may not like the image that the BMW brand portrays. I don’t know whay BMW feels the need to cannibalize its own brand like this, but I guess the more models that share the platform, the more economic sense it makes for the company. I just cringe at the thought of a FWD car with the Roundel on the hood. It just doesn’t seem right.

  • avatar

    The 0 series exists today; it’s the 1-series hatchback available in Europe.
    The question BMW faces in the US is can you make and sell a premium compact car (hatchback)?
    Maybe assuming BMW keeps the RWD and can keep the prestige without raising the price too much…

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve wanted a 120D 5-door since they came out. Its the perfect car. RWD, plenty of useful room. Manual. No gimmickry on the interior. Efficient but torquey… then the 123D came out and was even better.

      … and still, we get the same old mantra. Americans aren’t interested in (diesel) (hatchbacks) (manual transmissions)

      I don’t see the 1-series hatches as competing in Mini territory as akatsuki suggested… actually, I don’t see them competing with anything currently offered in the US, which I figure would make a pretty reasonable low-volume, low-effort seller. I’d be first in line. But what do my wallet and I know?

  • avatar

    Taking MINI and making it a BMW = bad idea.

    It’s all about image and cultural baggage.  I have friends who drive MINIs who wouldn’t want to be seen in a Bimmer, no matter how nice.  I’ll bet if you did a survey of MINI owners, you’d find most have a similar sentiment. The only exception would be an old 2002. 

    Put another way: The porcupine joke you’ve all heard features a BMW for a reason.

  • avatar

    BMW and MINI are two entirely different brands. It’s hard to imagine either doing much to cannibalize the other.
    a FWD BMW is an absurd idea. If they are really going to do that, they should make it the square-root-of-minus-one series.

  • avatar

    Yes, why can’t we get the 1er hatchbacks in Canada? No need for a zero series.

  • avatar
    Kyle Schellenberg

    I don’t think they will.  Even at niche levels the Mini offers upscale profitability and one thing that most other cars (except the Beetle) don’t have the benefit of: not having to refresh the styling every few years with all new body bits.

  • avatar

    I think that there’s enough room for a model between the 2. The MINI is really tiny.
    Like Potatobreath, I’d like to see a 1 series hatch here first. And with a 4cylinder.

  • avatar

    Part of the problem is that BMWs keep getting larger and heavier. They probably need a Zero series so that they can keep stretching and porking out the rest of the line. I’d love to have a 2500 lb Mini sized rwd BMW hatchback. Unfortunately, it will probably have the weight and size of the current One series in order to meet some new IIHS locomotive side impact test.

  • avatar

    Discontinuing the MINI would be a huge mistake. Trying to replace it with a BMW would be an even bigger one.

    The thing is: where’s the beef? What is the advantage to doing any of that? You’ve captured a market. The network is in place. All systems are go and you’d wreck that for… ?
    It doesn’t make any sense and I doubt anyone at BMW would seriously propose such a manoeuver. They’re not that stupid.

  • avatar

    Through October of this year, Honda “only” sold 223,000 Civics in the US.  Guess they should abandon that niche, huh?
    Killing Mini would be beyond stupid.  They’ve spent years creating a unique brand identity and  a dealer network, and they get factory sticker for most of their cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Cammy Corrigan

      May I remind people that the 240000 figure is a production figure. They use those units to sell GLOBALLY, not just in the US. Through to October 2009, Mini sold 39,172 units in the US. So yes, I’d put that firmly in the niche category.

  • avatar

    a FWD BMW is an absurd idea. If they are really going to do that, they should make it the square-root-of-minus-one series.
    Heh, I like the way you think.  But don’t forget… there are already enough products out there named i.  Granted, it’s usually i-something, but Mitsubishi actually does have an i.  Now I’ll forever think of them in terms of math.

  • avatar

    Mini is going nowhere, that bit was included merely as bait for a too-easy argument so I will ignore it.

    I do think it would be mildly retarded to sell (in the US) a Mini sized (FWD or not) BMW. Mini already is the equivalent of a BMW for it’s market segment, with the high price and the performance reputation to match. Seeing as there isn’t a Mercedes or Audi of subcompacts to leach market share from, an expensive small BMW would necessarily compete with it’s first cousin. Maybe that would be a good thing if they were both first in the door at the next big party, but that’s a hell of a risk to take.

  • avatar

    I don’t know what all the fuss is about regarding a front wheel drive BMW.

    I’ve owned more BMWs than any other car, and currently have two, but as had been mentioned, BMW today has largely abandoned its Neu Klasse sporting roots, and seems to care less and less about enthusiasts, tradition, and its meaningful and identifiable brand identity.

    Although possessing impressive technology, with 5000lbs Motorsport SUVs now being produced, the BMW of today really has nothing to do with the company that made the e30 M3, let alone the 2002. They make cars in any shape, size, and market if they think it will sell. The RWD, conventional, well made, and relatively simple sporting saloon that made BMW is really a dated concept, if you look at the company’s product range.  As such, why not make a FWD car if their focus groups think there is a market for one. What does the company have to lose really? It’s traditional identity?

  • avatar

    No way BMW is going to shut down MINI. A volume of 240K/year is beyond niche and quite amazing for what should, by all rights, be a niche vehicle.
    I do, however, believe that BMW will make a 0 series based on the MINI platform. It will weight 3300lbs, cost $38K with pleather and no stereo, and look like an uglified micromachines version of the X6. I’d like to say that it would defile the brand, but after the Gran Tourismo it would still be a giant step up.

  • avatar

    90% of BMW buyers probably don’t know that the cars are currently only RWD, but RWD is what has made the brand so strong.

    The automotive “tastemakers”, for lack of a better word, like BMWs for the RWD, and everyone else follows.

    If BMW starts making BMW branded FWD cars it will be no better than Lincoln, and it will be worse than Infiniti, which has an all RWD lineup and plans to keep it that way.

    But that’s not to say that the 0er would be FWD, BMW resurrected itself postwar with a RWD car much smaller than the MINI, called the Isetta.

    The MINI and 1er already compete, even though the 1er is larger outside the space efficiency of an FF layout allows the MINI to be as large inside. A front engine, RWD car smaller than the 1er would have no space at all.

    If BMW makes a smaller car than the 1er it will have to either be FF or RR layout, hopefully it will be RR.

    BMW could take a lesson from the Japanese, they’ve made a number of amazing small RWD kei cars, most recently the Mitsubishi i. Perhaps BMW could take steal the Japanese i design just like it stole the Italian Isetta design.

  • avatar

    It would be a novel concept in this day and age, but I keep hoping that one of the manufacturers will release a ‘simple’ car. A sedan/hatchback/wagon that has nothing but the basic luxuries (pw, pm, ac, audio) and packs all its punch into the drivetrain, suspension and ride. Seems that these days, luxury is nothing more than packing the car with gadgets that have little to do with actual driving.

  • avatar

    The Mini is so different from the various BMW coupe and sedan models that I have to remind myself that it is built by the same company. I don’t see them competing against each other.

    The 1-series was supposed to be a throwback to the 2002. Not hardly. It is noticeably bigger and a thousand pounds heavier. Much of the weight gain is due to government requirements. (Even the Honda Fit, which is about the same size as a 2002, weighs 400 pounds more.) But the rest is due to luxury features and powered options never available on the 2002. I would like to see a 0-series RWD coupe that was about the same size and weight as a Fit and whose only power options were steering and brakes. A 2 liter, 4 cylinder engine producing 170 to 200 hp would give it sparkling performance.

  • avatar

    First, the assumption that BMW and Mini are competing brands are wrong. A same prixe and size BMW and Mini would appeal to different demographics, thus never be in internal competition.

    Second, the assumption that BMW would be the “stronger” brand is also wrong. As said, they are different brands, branded to appeal to different buyers. There are nothing to point to BMW being stronger than Mini. Mini is a smaller brand than BMW, but there’s nothing that indicates is any less strong.

    Thirdly, the assumption that 240 000 cars a year is negligable is also wrong. That’s close to 100% productional capacity for one factory, making more or less cars would lose them money, 240 000 cars is close to 100% profit. .

  • avatar

    +1 Ingvar

  • avatar

    Kendahl has it right.
     Let’s see a real try at the 2002, as close  as is possible. The 1 series is a bit of joke. To my mind the 1 sereies is to the 3 series as the Gremlin was to the Hornet. 
    A 6 cylinder porky chopped 3 series is supposed to be an updated 2002? Hardly.
    With the exception of the retro British styling, the Mini is the better 2002.

  • avatar

    Cammy- for some reason I find it interesting when you use plural tense for carmakers, “BMW are…” instead of “Isn’t”
    It seems to make sense. But so far I’ve never read anyone else writing like that..

  • avatar

    Clearly, she’s British – or, perhaps, judging by her name, Irish. Folks in the UK regard a company as a group of people, rather than an individual entity, as we Americans do. Actually, it makes very good sense, and I have always liked it.

  • avatar

    Agree with Ingvar..
    Also I think that a FWD BMW would be crossing a huge Rubicon… but given all the 5000+lb. SAV Coupes they’re selling today, it wouldn’t surprise me.
    Gonna have to hang on to my E46 til it dies or the repairs kill me :)
    (Oh yeah, add me to the “hell yeah I’d buy a 123d 5door if they’d sell me one” chorus)

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