With an EV on the Way, Mini's Looking for Partners and Thinking Hard About the U.S.

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
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with an ev on the way mini s looking for partners and thinking hard about the u s

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]

Steph Willems
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  • Sector 5 Sector 5 on Dec 07, 2017

    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.

  • 993cc 993cc on Dec 07, 2017

    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?

  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.
  • Carsofchaos The problem with congestion, dear friends, is not the cars per se. I drive into the city daily and the problem is this:Your average street in the area used to be 4 lanes. Now it is a bus lane, a bike lane (now you're down to two lanes), then you have delivery trucks double parking, along with the Uber and Lyft drivers also double parking. So your 4 lane avenue is now a 1.5 lane avenue. Do you now see the problem? Congestion pricing will fix none of these things....what it WILL do is fund persion plans.
  • FreedMike Many F150s I encounter are autonomously driven...and by that I mean they're driving themselves because the dips**ts at the wheel are paying attention to everything else but the road.
  • Tassos A "small car", TIM????????????This is the GLE. Have you even ever SEEN the huge thing at a dealer's??? NOT even the GLC,and Merc has TWO classes even SMALLER than the C (The A and the B, you guessed it? You must be a GENIUS!).THe E is a "MIDSIZED" crossover, NOT A SMALL ONE BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION, oh CLUELESS one.I AM SICK AND TIRED OF THE NONSENSE you post here every god damned day.And I BET you will never even CORRECT your NONSENSE, much less APOLOGIZE for your cluelessness and unprofessionalism.
  • Stuki Moi "How do you take a small crossover and make it better?Slap the AMG badge on it and give it the AMG treatment."No, you don't.In fact, that is specifically what you do NOT do.Huge, frail wheels, and postage stamp sidewalls, do nothing but make overly tall cuvs tramline and judder. And render them even less useful across the few surfaces where they could conceivably have an advantage over more properly dimensioned cars. And: Small cuvs have pitiful enough fuel range as it is, even with more sensible engines.Instead, to make a small CUV better, you 1)make it a lower slung wagon. And only then give it the AMG treatment. AMG'ing, makes sense for the E class. And these days with larger cars, even the C class. For the S class, it never made sense, aside from the sheer aural visceralness of the last NA V8. The E-class is the center of AMG. Even the C-class, rarely touches the M3.Or 2) You give it the Raptor/Baja treatment. Massive, hypersophisticated suspension travel allowing landing meaningful jumps. As well as driving up and down wide enough stairs if desired. That's a kind of driving for which a taller stance, and IFS/IRS, makes sense.Attempting to turn a CUV into some sort of a laptime wonder, makes about as much sense as putting an America's Cup rig atop a ten deck cruiseship.