By on December 6, 2017

Mini Cooper 5-door production line Oxford - Image: BMW UK

Mini faces a fork in the road in the United States. The retro-themed brand, reintroduced in the U.S. marketplace in 2002 by parent company BMW Group, needs to decide what it wants to be. Sales are falling as consumer tastes evolve towards larger vehicles. New technologies are cropping up at a rapid pace. What is the child of the British Motor Corporation, British Leyland, Rover Group, and BMW Group to do?

BMW Group management board member Peter Schwarzenbauer knows the brand needs to evolve — and not just in the U.S., where the brand reach a high point in 2013. After announcing a new electric Mini Cooper Hardtop (Mini E) for 2019, Schwarzenbauer took some time to address its U.S. plans.

“It’s really only in the U.S. where we are facing this with Mini,” he told Reuters, referring to declining sales in the face of crossover competition. In Europe, which lacks many of the rolling behemoths found here, Mini’s offerings appears much more right-sized to customers. The brand expects another record year of global sales.

Schwarzenbauer knows the brand can’t go larger. And it won’t. The Clubman and Countryman will remain the largest vehicles in Mini’s U.S. lineup, with no Mini Canyonero XL on the horizon. Instead, Mini just needs to find a new way for people to drive (or ride in) its vehicles.

The BMW exec feels the only way forward in the U.S. is to build “the Mini brand in the direction of the electric urban mobility company.” Ugh, there’s that word again. Banded about by much larger automakers looking for new revenue streams, “mobility” can mean any number of things. In this case, Schwarzenbauer likely means ride-sharing (and possibly ride-hailing) services, each stocked with Mini vehicles.

BMW Group already owns two car-sharing subsidiaries — DriveNow, operating in nine European countries, and ReachNow, launching in three U.S. cities last year.

But what kind of vehicles will they be? The Cooper Hardtop electric, something the brand spend a decade developing, is an obvious possibility. That vehicle uses a heavily modified BMW i3 drivetrain. However,  stuffing a battery pack with useable range into a small vehicle is a large task, something Mini continues to struggle with. The automaker is now on the hunt for a technology partner.

“We are talking to many OEMs around the world, not only in China, (about) how to electrify smaller cars,” Schwarzenbauer said. “There’s no final conclusion on it.”

He speculates that the brand could one day become an all-electric entity, and not just in America. “[BMW Group] made this decision to add the [Mini E] because we saw, especially in urban areas, emissions-free mobility is becoming increasingly important,” Schwarzenbauer told Automotive News Europe. “Mini is an urban brand, so it’s a natural evolution to electrify. We already have a lot of experience with electric mobility at Mini.”

Still, he wants future Mini owners to always have the option of driving the car themselves, even if it’s outfitted with autonomous driving technology.

Mini brand sales sank 10.4 percent in the U.S. last month. Through the end of November, 2017 sales have fallen 10.3 percent compared to 2016. In terms of individual models, the only Mini vehicles to see a sales increase this year are the Countryman and low-volume Cooper Convertible.

[Image: BMW Group]

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35 Comments on “With an EV on the Way, Mini’s Looking for Partners and Thinking Hard About the U.S....”

  • avatar

    Niche market cars seem unsuitable as standalone brands. I don’t think there is a standalone Alfa dealer, there were no standalone Scion dealers.

    Perhaps MINI should be converted into a sub-brand of BMW. Of course then you have to pay off all the owners of dedicated MINI stores.

  • avatar

    Mini should be wound down as a brand. It never made sense to build a brand out of a single model anyway, let alone one limited by the retro-inspired styling of an old model, and it’s overstayed its welcome already.

    The money saved from the shutdown of Mini could be spent on competent designers to improve the styling of BMW’s own lineup.

  • avatar

    It’s no mystery as to why the brand’s floundering: a base two door runs $22,000 and comes with a freakin’ 3-banger.

    And meanwhile, the only Mini dealer in my area shares a lot with a Honda store. Guess what’s about 100 feet away from that $22,000 3-banger Mini? A $24,000 Civic Si coupe.

    No thanks.

    As an enthusiast, I’d love to see Mini succeed, but that kind of ridiculous value proposition has to change.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Well, there you have it.

    • 0 avatar

      Bingo! Adding accessories compounds the situation. Mini seems like one of those cars that you’d like someone else to take the initial depreciation hit for you so you buy it used.

      • 0 avatar

        The absolute cheapest Mini you can buy here in Denver is $25,000. But wait…the Countryman is even nuttier. Here’s one with the same dinky little three banger as the base Mini, for…**************FORTY TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS***********.

        I’ll ramp up the insanity even further: the only Denver dealer that carries Mini also has Honda and BMW stores on its’ property. So, let’s say that guy who’s ready to drop forty-three large on the Countryman takes a little stroll down to the BMW store, and finds this absolutely awful looking car:

        Mini pricing is just looney tunes. It’s no wonder they’re getting killed in the marketplace.

    • 0 avatar
      Markus RiverRhine

      A what? A Civic Si coupé ? Who would even know what that is?

      Do you seriously believe that anybody would cross shop between a cultural icon and a…what?

      • 0 avatar

        Maybe not, but the questions are: a) how many people are willing to get gouged for a “cultural icon”, b) and is that market growing?

        Answers, based on actual Mini sales figures: a) not many, and b) based on sales figures, absolutely not.

        Mini needs to drop the price on its’ “cultural icon” if it wants to sell them.

    • 0 avatar

      Yah…..but it’s cute

    • 0 avatar

      Totally agreed. And, based on reliability metrics, Minis appear to be assembled with Krazy Glue and rubber bands. We see a lot of these traded out between 20k and 30k miles.

      At $17k, the base Mini starts to make some sense, and the “Countryman” shouldnt cost more than $29k.

  • avatar

    How in the world does Mini expect to grow, if everything it sells is always another variant of a stretched retro-styled Mini? Fiat’s having the same problem, making all but the 124 a stretched 500.
    If Ford made everything it sells look like a Pinto stretch limo, their sales might be a tetch smaller, too.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I’ve never understood this, either.

      • 0 avatar

        I get it – Americans don’t like tiny cars.

        Mini’s problem is price. If they could deliver something like the larger-engined Countryman for high-twenties money, they’d be able to sell a bunch of ’em. But with zero options, you’re looking at $33,000.

        Maybe they should look at building them here, or in Mexico.

        • 0 avatar

          Americans like small cars, they just like them in Miata form.

        • 0 avatar

          Not quite. MSRP of an ’18 Countryman with the 2.0l engine is 31.7. And that’s with AWD. It’s not like they are skimpy on standard equipment either. With discounts, under 30k is easily doable.

          Your 43k model with the 1.5l engine earlier sounds like an extreme example of how to build the most luxurious, least powerful Mini you can. Which is easily possible. You don’t get that level of flexibility (or ridiculousness) with your options with other brands.

  • avatar
    George B

    What is the market for an all-electric car with a length optimized for parallel parking on the street, but that also needs to be plugged in to recharge? Seems to me that a gas-electric hybrid Mini would be a better urban car. Efficient in stop-and-go traffic with no need for a charging station.

  • avatar

    Minis are incredibly expensive for what they are. Even leasing them is an exercise in financial foolishness.

    You’ve gotta really want one to rationalize getting one.

  • avatar

    “Mini faces a fork in the road in the United States.”

    They should take it.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    So the original BMW-Mini was a Mini updated and upsized a bit compared to the British original original. A little pocket rocket that felt faster than it was.

    However, BMW apparently decided that the Mini was too small, so every successive generation is bigger than the previous one. This kind of hit me between the eyes when I found myself following the newest version of the “Clubman.” Relatively speaking, it was huuuge.

    So now we have a brand that combines British reliability with German pricing and offers nothing particularly distinctive as compared to a dozen other blob-shaped “CUVs.”


    • 0 avatar

      There’s nothing British here. My F60 Countryman is an X1 in MINI skin, made in The Netherlands, next to the German border.. Zero British parts; zero British assembly.

  • avatar

    I’m guessing that most of the posters here have never driven a MINI, or are content driving Camrys. My early cars were Alfas, MGs, Triumphs, mixed with a few American cars and lots of VWs. Different expectations. Disappointed when I read responses disparaging a car, or advocating its demise, that offers something different than bland 4 door sedans and SUVs.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. We are very fortunate to have MINI here. There is NOTHING else like them in our market. Who else makes a fully customizable fun-to-drive, semi-unique (very few are exactly alike) car with manual transmissions availabble across the range? Now, they’re very reliable as well, and built to a premium spec, with very good fit-and-finish. All other brands force you into common packages, and needless to say, forget about a manual!

    • 0 avatar

      I have driven Minis, and they’re lots of fun.

      They just need to be a LOT cheaper. I mean, seriously…$25,000 for a tiny little car with a three banger, or forty-three for a small CUV with the same dinky engine? That’s crazy. People will only pay so much for “heritage.”

  • avatar

    They need to go beyond the retro. Retro works for one, or maybe two, generations. But today’s Mini products feel stale. They need a transition to a modern but brand-aware design language, like Jaguar wrenched itself through in the late 2000s/early 2010s.

    If I were in charge I’d ask the designers to say “What should the word ‘mini’ mean in 2025? If there had been uninterrupted development of Minis, what would we have today?”

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly this. They are only so many variants you can make of a retro “Mini,” which isn’t Mini at all at this point until you’ve run out of steam.

      I think the problem BMW faces if they build a true CUV/SUV, how do they compete against the X1 or X3 potentially sitting at the dealership right next door.

      It is a bit ironic that Hummer would likely be a successful brand in 2017 (assuming it wasn’t warmed over we’re going bankrupt so let’s raid the GMT800 parts bin product) and Mini is now struggling because it isn’t SUV enough or big enough.

  • avatar

    Mini should have never been a brand. It should have been a model alongside a few other resurrected British nameplates.

  • avatar
    Markus RiverRhine

    American responses to a European car.

  • avatar

    I cant think of a single car brand more suited to converting to Electric motors while maintaining and enhancing its DNA than Mini. Low COG, instant torque, and all the propulsion bits on the bottom of the car opens up the small interior space. Even I couldn’t wait to drive one of those.

  • avatar

    BMW’s on track with a small, suburban eM. Only American doesn’t like small cars and only buys them on sufferance of gas prices.

    I’m surprised there’s never been a Moke edition. Along mini-SUV lines – if you’ll pardon the pun. Though I guess the monies better spent now on electrification.

    Don’t enjoy the go-cart ride.

  • avatar

    Ugh. Enough with the “mobility” already! It seems every European carmaker who can’t sell cars here wants to sell us “mobility”. First PSA group. Now MINI. Who’s next? Wartburg?

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