Will Mini's Slow U.S. Fade Soon End?

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
will mini s slow u s fade soon end

As the U.S. auto industry achieved record sales volume in 2015, Mini’s U.S. sales were down 12 percent compared with Mini’s peak in 2013. And despite modest year-over-year growth in 2015, the year didn’t end so well. Mini sales plunged 20 percent in the fourth quarter, and sales have now declined in four of the last five months.

Through the first two months of 2016, U.S. Mini sales are down 13 percent, a loss of nearly 900 sales, even as industry sales grew by more than 3 percent. Indeed, in February, Mini volume plunged 24 percent as overall U.S. new vehicle volume rose to the highest February level since 2001.

Yet this is not a worldwide issue. Globally, Mini sales hit a record high in 2015 and are up 4 percent in the early part of 2016. Will a U.S. rebound soon follow?Lost sales from discontinued Minis (Paceman, Coupe, Roadster) or on-hiatus variants (Convertible) are clearly a factor in the decline. Through the first two months of 2016, sales of those models are down by 655 units.

Yet at the same time, Mini has added those sales right back from the return of a previously on-hiatus model, the Clubman, sales of which increased by – we’re not making this up – 655 units in January and February.

Sales of once “popular” Minis, however, are now genuinely uncommon by the standards of typical small cars.

Mini USA averaged approximately 1,900 monthly Countryman sales in 2014; fewer than 1,300 ever since. After a surprising 11-percent upward swing to more than 2,100 sales in December – we know BMW has some tricks up its sleeve for end-of-year sales spikes – only 1,085 Countrymans were sold during the first two months of 2016. The Countryman’s sharp 36-percent decline comes despite a 78-percent increase in subcompact crossover sales.

The Cooper Hardtop 2-Door, Mini’s original and best-selling model, lost 28 percent of its February sales and is down 23 percent so far this year. Only a portion of those lost sales were made up for by the year-old Cooper Hardtop 4-Door, which topped the Mini sales charts in January but then posted a 17-percent year-over-year decline in February.

Partly to blame, according to AutoPacific’s Dave Sullivan, is the glacial design shift. “Their vehicles are difficult to tell what is new and what is 10 years old for the common guy,” Sullivan says.

If an absence of freshness is a contributor, slim pickings are hardly a leading factor. As of February 1, Automotive News estimated that Mini had an 83-day supply of new vehicles, greater than the 77-day industry average. Cars.com’s current listings display 3,300 Countrymans and 6,000 Hardtops.

BMW doesn’t need to sell Minis like they’re Civics or Corollas to make a lot of money. With global success, it’s quite likely that a lingering U.S. fade won’t irreparably harm the Mini investment, either. But if BMW wants to replicate its past U.S. Mini success, a change is required. At the current pace, Mini won’t sell as many vehicles in the U.S. this year as the brand did in 2008, back when Mini was adding a third bodystyle to supplement the Hardtop and Convertible.

A remedy? “Maybe,” as Sullivan says, “Mini needs to adopt a marketing campaign that shows some of their vehicles are anything but mini.”

Indeed, in a market which still produces 14 percent of its sales from full-size pickups and their full-size SUV offspring, a market where many consumers continue to link the size of their payment to the size of their vehicle and now encounter no gas pump sticker shock, the very notion of premium-priced small cars is one discrepancy too far.

But a small car exterior with a big car interior? That may be the BMW marketer’s way forward for all Minis in America, the Clubman most obviously.

(Image Source: BMW North America)

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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  • Louis XVI Louis XVI on Mar 18, 2016

    I've had my Mini convertible for four years, and have already put almost 100,000 miles on it. It's by far (really far) the best car I've ever had. No mechanical failures other than typical wear and tear (e.g., tires); it's a ton of fun to drive, even as a daily driver; and, to my surprise, it handles the Minnesota winter just fine. When it eventually wears out, I'm pretty sure I'll buy another one.

  • Signal11 Signal11 on Mar 18, 2016

    Had a 2012 Countryman S AWD for three years. By far the least reliable and most trouble prone car I've ever had. Trouble started a few months in with a leaking moonroof that was so bad, I could hear water sloshing around in the car. Sprung an interior leak eventually and destroyed a $2500 laptop and ton of personal documents. At one point, I kept coming back to my parked car with the windows rolled halfway down. Then they started going down on their own while I was driving it. Required all the window motors be replaced. Faulty gas gauge, so I ran out of gas while driving to work one morning. Electricity cut out as I was pulling onto the on ramp/toll booth of a highway. Engine quickly followed. And on and on and on. Just one issue right after another nearly from the moment I got it to the moment I gave it back. I don't think I ever went three months without filling out a repair history field on TrueDelta. I wouldn't touch Mini again with a ten foot pole. Great fun to drive, though.

  • Inside Looking Out You should care. With GM will die America. All signs are there. How about the Arsenal of Democracy? Toyota?
  • DenverMike What else did anyone think, when GM was losing tens of billions a year, year after year?
  • Bill Wade GM says they're killing Android Auto and Apple Carplay. Any company that makes decisions like that is doomed to die.
  • Jeff S I don't believe gm will die but that it will continue to shrink in product and market share and it will probably be acquired by a foreign manufacturer. I doubt gm lacks funds as it did in 2008 and that they have more than enough cash at hand but gm will not expand as it did in the past and the emphasis is more on profitability and cutting costs to the bone. Making gm a more attractive takeover target and cut costs at the expense of more desirable and reliable products. At the time of Farago's article I was in favor of the Government bailout more to save jobs and suppliers but today I would not be in favor of the bailout. My opinions on gm have changed since 2008 and 2009 and now I really don't care if gm survives or not.
  • Kwik_Shift I was a GM fan boy until it ended in 2013 when I traded in my Avalanche to go over to Nissan.