Mini Dealers Want to Know What the Hell Is Going on With the Brand
Sales of the Mini brand have been in a downward spiral since 2013 and U.S. dealerships want to know what expect in the future. Any prospects for the nameplate to grow into a volume brand appears to have been thrown out the window by BMW Group, and it’s now looking like it could shift into electrification.
Dealers, however, don’t know this for sure, and hope to gain clarity on the matter as the domestic market dives deeper into its appreciation for trucks, SUVs, and crossovers.
“I don’t think the dealers have a very clear vision of where the car line is going long term,” explained Jason Willis, member of the Mini National Dealer Council. “There is a lot of pride on being a small-car performance company, so my guess is we will continue to be a small-car company. But as far as electric and how we fit in, we’re still waiting to hear that plan.”
In an extended interview with Automotive News, Willis expressed his concerns over the electrification of the brand — and what he hopes to learn next month, when BMW Group’s board meets with Mini retailers after the 2018 National Automobile Dealers Association.
“With less cars sold, dealers had to be much more aggressive closing car deals and coming to agreements with customers,” Willis said. “So our profit margins on sales definitely shrunk year over year. Overall dealer profitability is worse in 2017 than it was in 2016. It was [because of lower] new-car volume and new-car grosses combined … The profitability potential of a Mini is relatively low compared to other manufacturers who sell in similar price ranges.”
The solution is to make the cars more appetizing to a specific kind of customer. Mini doesn’t make big SUVs and trucks and shouldn’t bother marketing its vehicles on mass appeal. Fortunately, this is one aspect of the problem the manufacturer already seems to have gotten a handle on.
“Mini did change advertising companies,” explained Willis. “So we have a new advertising game plan that will be much more focused on the vehicle and the luxury and the performance and the fun that Mini brings and less focused on social issues or other types of advertising Mini has done in the past. The Super Bowl commercial last year, the theme was that Mini is for everybody, but it was very little about the car.”
He went on to say that dealers have been largely happy with the direction its marketing has taken. An emphasis on fun, Willis noted, is more in line with the brand’s core values, but Mini USA is still fighting for a bigger advertising budget.
Willis also noted that the lineup isn’t going to change for a while. While there will be some refreshed models coming out over the next two years (and an battery-electric Cooper in 2019), no other redesigns or new models are likely until at least 2020. That’s a problem. Dealers know that small cars are an important part of Mini’s identity but they are also aware that the U.S. isn’t so keen on them right now. Willis said it might be prudent for the brand to at least attempt to offer something more mainstream in the future, noting the success of Porsche and Jaguar’s push into utility vehicles.
“I believe there’s room in the model lineup for [something bigger than the Countryman]. I also believe there’s room for a halo car, whether it be the Superleggera, the two-door convertible concept shown two or three years ago,” said Willis. “We continue to have customers come in and ask about it and wonder when they can buy it. That is a wow, got-to-have product, and that is the type of thing that really shows what Mini can be.”
Additionally, he said he’d like to see more leasing and would not be surprised if the company introduced a subscription service — but noted he hasn’t heard anything official on the matter. Overall, what Willis and the rest of the dealer network wants are answers. They want to know if Mini is destined to remain a niche brand fighting for its life amid declining sales or if the manufacturer has some kind of master plan that involves SUVs or electrification.
For now, BMW Group looks to be taking a steady-as-she-goes approach as it considers what is to be done. But we doubt an answer like that will satisfy those hurting dealerships.
[Images: BMW Group]
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