What's Wrong With This Picture: A Mini's Progress Edition

My two weeks in Europe has drawn to a close, and I’m back at my familiar desk, in front of my familiar computer, catching up on all the automotive happenings I missed, contemplating my transition out of TTAC’s day-to-day leadership, and reflecting on all I saw over my whirlwind two weeks. And though you haven’t heard from me much in the last two weeks, rest assured that I have not forgotten TTAC, nor have I missed any opportunities to accumulate impressions from the automotive landscape of modern Europe.

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Americans Love Tiny Cars, They're Just Not Aware Of Them

Under Penske management, the Smart minicar brand sold fewer than 6,000 vehicles last year, capping a sales decline that led Mercedes to take back management duties for the brand. And, according to the new folks in charge of Smart, there’s only one real problem with the brand: awareness. Or, more precisely, lack thereof. We’ve heard this song before from Smart’s new GM, but now Ernst Lieb, boss of Mercedes U.S.A., is picking up the tune, telling Automotive News [sub] that

With the marketing activities that we’re going to have, we’ll see some positive momentum. The biggest problem the car has right now: Nobody knows it.

Which, of course, is nonsense. Nonsense that allows you to appear aware of the sales problem without acknowledging a single problem with the product itself, but nonsense none the less. And Smart’s not the only micro-car brand that’s reaching for it either, as Fiat-Chrysler marketing boss Olivier Francois has the exact same excuse for Fiat’s weak start, telling AdAge

I don’t think we have a car problem; people love the car. I think we have an awareness problem.

Are Americans incapable of seeing, recognizing or being aware of anything that weighs less than 3,000 lbs? Or is it possible that there are a few things wrong with the Smart and 500?

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Review: 2011 MINI Cooper S

Ever since I test drove the original Honda CRX a quarter-century ago I’ve been a big fan of small cars. In everyday driving I’d rather have a small car with limited power than a large car with a lot of it. And yet I’ve never quite connected with the MINIs I’ve driven. Perhaps I just needed more time in the seat? To find out, I recently spent a week with a MINI Cooper S—a small car with plenty of power.

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New or Used: College Grads on the Fashionista Circuit?

Christian writes:

Hey Sajeev and Steve,

So my girlfriend is in the process of getting a new car. We’re graduating college in May and she was lucky enough to have her Mom offer to buy her a car as a graduation present. Thats pretty much perfect timing because her 1996 Jeep Cherokee Country is on its last legs. She loves her Jeep but it has almost 300,000 miles on it and it hasn’t been the most reliable thing in the world over the past year

Originally, this whole process was supposed to be pretty easy. Her Mom offered to buy her a car worth up to $8000, and loving Jeeps she pretty much had her heart set on a TJ Wrangler, which (correct me if I’m wrong) would probably be pushing her budget.

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What's Wrong With This Picture: MINI's Untouched Niche Edition
What's Wrong With This Picture: MINI, Minimized Edition

With recent models like the Countryman, MINIs have become larger than ever. So it was inevitable that the next model in the brand’s lineup would try to reconnect with the value of small. When I f irst saw the concept of this MINI Coupe, my thought was “just what the market was asking for… a MINI with less space,” but in the context of a MINI Countryman that hulks over its brand-mates (not to mention a coupe-ified version of same), this fresh, saucy little coupe makes a certain amount of sense (if only in the “endearingly pointless/pointlessly endearing” sense, as it’s actually 44 lbs heavier than an equivalent Hatchback). Of course, it will make even more sense as a drop-top roadster, but that’s another subtle-yet-profitable variation of the basic MINI formula for another day… (watch a MINI Coupe prototype go ’round the ‘ring here)

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New or Used: The Short and Pokey Commute
Brady Writes:

Dear Steve/Sajeev,

I’m a 35 year old physician with wife and 2 kids, who has happily made do with a succession of automatic VW Passat wagons, first a chipped 2000 and now a 2010 I use to reverse commute out of my large metro region. We’ll be moving to the oceanfront suburb of a small New England city this summer and I’ve got to select car #2. My commute will by short and pokey–7 miles each way, some of it along beautiful marshland and ocean, some of it not. Long haul family trips can be done in the Passat, but the second car should safely carry the kids in a pinch. Budget is 30-35k max. I’ve been thinking new v6 mustang convertible, but then again, is it time to invest in the future and, say, lease a volt? Or practical, comfortable fun in a new GTI/Golf TDI? Revisit a heavily depreciated bug convertible we used to love despite it’s crude underpinnings and tight back seat? Or take advantage of some older interesting vehicles–S4 cabriolet, 3 series convertible, or something I’m too boring to have considered?

Steve Answers:

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MINI Cloned In China… Again!
Review: 2011 MINI John Cooper Works

There it was: a honk, a pair of grins and waves from two middle aged women in a MINI Cooper. It was time to find out whether these MINI fans approve of my epic (patent pending) Mehta parking lot swagger, or if the allure of the John Cooper Works MINI had reduced them to smiles. After all, the JCW is more than just a serious piece of hot-hatch kit, it’s wake-up call for the non-believer: spend some time in this car and you’ll have no choice but to learn just how crazy people are about their MINIs. And in this cult of the cutesy and subcompact, the John Cooper Works is king. But does any of this actually justify parting with $33,000 for a tiny, front-drive car?

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Mini or Electra?

I snapped this shot of an Austin Mini (technically a Morris 850) and a Buick Electra 225 parked side-by-side in an Alameda, California parking lot before I left the West Coast, and every time I look at it I wonder: would I rather have an early Mini or a Malaise Era Electra? I can’t decide!

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BMW Wants To Shrink It's Mini. What Will They Call It?

Automobilwoche [sub] has it on good authority (Mini chief Wolfgang Armbrecht) that BMW plans a minier than Mini car. They want to show a prototype at the Detroit Auto Show next year. They probably can bring it as carry-on.

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The Future Of Car Brands: Scooters

If you exist outside the fast-paced world of the automotive branding community, you might believe that the point of car brands is to sell cars. Needless to say, you’d be wrong. The big buzzword around car brands, particularly the more niche and eco-friendly brands is “mobility.” As in “we must leverage our brand values to provide a broad-based mobility strategy for the cities of the future.” Or, to put it into layman’s terms, “screw cars, we gotta start building scooters.”

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Countryman's Culture Clash

How does a brand built on small, fun, efficient city cars build up to its inevitable first-ever SUV? Apparently the answer is very little. MINI’s seems to be aiming its forthcoming Countryman squarely at current MINI owners, with the first US market ads portraying the Countryman as little more than a MINI Cooper with four doors and All-Wheel-Drive (as opposed to Subaru-style outdoor lifestyle marketing). In other words, it’s not so much a Countryman as a city hipster with a flair for rural evangelism. But are four doors, AWD and a “sliding center rail” enough to bring new buyers into the fold? There’s almost no doubt that the Countryman will be a hot fashion item for a while, but the world’s first Austrian-built MINI is going to face high prices, weak power in the base spec (1.6 liters moving over 3k lbs), and intra-brand anti-SUV snobbery. On the plus side, it’s apparently very hip.

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What's Wrong With This Picture: Mini Is Cummins To Get You Edition
There Is A Substitute: Hyundai Steps In For Porsche, Takes On MINI Challenge
  • Bfisch81 My friend's mom bought a fully loaded 96 and I remember really liking it. I still thought my granddad's 89 was cooler and sportier but the 96 felt more luxury which wasn't a bad thing in and of itself.
  • Art Vandelay Battery issues aside, I didn’t hate it. I’d have just been paying for range I didn’t need.
  • THX1136 Saying that because 'marked up' vehicles are selling means they are not over priced assumes the folks paying over MSRP know that they are paying more than the manufacturer price set for the vehicle and are happy to do so. I'm guessing in some instances it may be the buyer is ignorant of the situation - or buys with a 'I gotta have it now, I can't wait' attitude. As others have mentioned if one does the work to find a fair price, they don't have to pay an inflated price. Laziness enters into the equation too. But I would agree, generally, that if folks are paying an unreasonably high price they must be okay with that. If demand drops significantly, prices would moderate. Big if.
  • Kosmo Short bed? That's it?! Ranger becomes the only option if you want an actual truck bed?!
  • Probert There's something wrong with that chart. The 9 month numbers for Tesla, in the chart, are closer to Tesla's Q3 numbers. They delivered 343,830 cars in q3 and YoY it is a 40% increase. They sold 363,830 but deliveries were slowed at the end of the quarter - no cars in inventory. For the past 9 months the total sold is 929,910 . So very good performance considering a major shutdown for about a month in China (Covid, factory revamp). Not sure if the chart is also inaccurate for other makers.