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How big can Mini get?

Posted by: David Welch on September 1, 2009


Every luxury brand eventually faces a quandary. Growth is good but how much is too much? If you sell too many, then the brand becomes ubiquitous and loses its exclusivity. Mini isn’t at risk of selling to the point where it becomes common. Not yet. But the way parent BMW is growing it, the question is valid. OK, Mini is not a luxury brand in the traditional sense, but when a company sells subcompacts at prices that can top $40,000 then it is luxury among its peers. The brand also thrives on its exclusive nature. Mini owners tend to be individualists and even a bit eccentric, says Mini USA Vice President Jim McDowell.

Before the car market tanked this year, Mini sales were soaring. The brand grew 29% last year to 54,000, which is more than double its first year back in the U.S. in 2002.
First they added a convertible, then the stretched Clubman. A crossover suv (it’s only a few inches taller than a Clubman) is on the way in early 2011, McDowell says. Mini is also looking at a sporty, two-seat hatch that looks like the brand’s answer to an Audi TT. Sources say it’s all but a done deal that the coupe is coming.

As a Mini owner myself, I can tell you that I don’t want to see these cars coming around every bend like, say, a Ford F-150 or Toyota Camry. But McDowell says he thinks the brand could easily grow from its current rate of about 50,000 cars a year to 80,000 or more without doing any damage. If he added a few niche cars beyond the crossover suv that is on the drawing board, he thinks Mini could surpass 100,000 without giving away its exclusivity. But getting upwards of 160,000 could be problematic, he says.

To that raises another question? If Mini has its namesake car, a stretch, a convertible and a crossover and coupe on the way, what’s next? McDowell says he’d love to bring back a modern interpretation of the Mini Moke. See the original Moke above. It would be the fun but potentially gangly offspring of a Mini and a Jeep Wrangler. Mini is seriously looking at it. Let us know what you think.

Reader Comments

Cameron McNaughton

September 1, 2009 1:20 PM

Having worked on a number of luxury automotive marques it sounds to me like Jim McDowell is exactly right. Mini could easily sell 100,000 car without losing its exclusivity. At that sales level the owners still feel like a member of a tribe joined by a special interest. It's when you start selling 200,000+ units per year that trouble starts. look at Mercedes Benz, BMW and commonplace that they're not even noteworthy. These Tier 1 brands need to make a conscious effort to rebuild their core values for a new generation of automotive buyers.

Cameron McNaughton
TreeFarm Partners Inc.

Jeff B

September 1, 2009 2:14 PM

If the car is really that good, I can't understand why the issue of exclusivity would come into play. Do that many people buy Mini's just because they are a bit "different"? Mazda Miata owners are a loyal bunch too, and I know I love it when I see more of them around -- just more people enjoying a great car.


September 1, 2009 3:29 PM

I own a Clubman in Northern California and there are 3 Minis on my short residential block alone. They are everywhere and it does not seem to impact people's love for their cars. Expansion does not seem to be an issue if our region is any example.


September 1, 2009 3:39 PM

The car pictured above would sell like HOT CAKES if it was priced below $28,000.00, in my opinion. Here's why- It's different, fun, & something that will get a person noticed! I'd buy one, & I know that my "Better Half" would want one too. As long as the quality is there, people will buy them. We've seen some BIG names in the auto industry get a lot of "bad press" lately. It seems as though Toyotas aren't what they're all cracked up to be, right? 'Google' this- TOYOTA RECALLS 1.3 MILLION CARS, and read it, as an example. I say bring-on that Mini. I'll take a YELLOW one! P.S. No 'SLUDGE", please! 'Google' this- ENGINE SLUDGE, and go to the consumeraffairs website about 'Toyota Engine Problems' and read all of the complaints. Click on 'Airbags' when you're there, & read those complaints too. Be SAFE!

Miguel André

September 1, 2009 4:51 PM

It has been my belief for a long time that "niche production" models are the way to go profit-wise for auto manufacturers for some time to come, and they can be of two varieties, i.e. Mini and new Audi A1 on the luxury end and super simple basic low cost models, i.e. Fiat 500 and Smart. It's their only chance of reversing the dominance buyers presently have in terms of bargaining power.
I'm all in favour of customer first and shopping for the best deal around but everything has a limit and as with airlines, it has taken the auto manufacturers to the cleaners faster than product and service innovation can keep up with.
As for the revival of the Mini Moke, what a bargain the Mini deal is turning out to be for BMW. Serious strategic thinking and vision.

David Gerard

September 1, 2009 7:44 PM

A Mini-SUV sounds like jumping the shark. But my first thought was something Moke-like - if they can make the SUV into a tiny thing that does serious four-wheel drive and off-road, that'll be fantastic.


September 1, 2009 8:29 PM

Tiny cars make me smile.

James Mason

September 1, 2009 9:22 PM

The loss of exclusivity argument is not a valid one. There was a time when every middle manager in London had a 3-series BMW, but that never robbed the model of its perceived exclusivity, especially among those who could never afford one. For myself, having learnt to drive in a Mini Moke, I would love to see a modern version released.


September 1, 2009 10:17 PM

The Moke would do OK but would need to be cheap to buy, possibly made in India. The US is a massive continent and in many area I would assume would hardly ever see a MINI. So if the increase in sales was not only in some localities, fine. I would like to see a 5 door MINI hatchback, to bring in people who to now have been put off by too few doors ie. me.


September 2, 2009 3:01 AM

Mini car is a good idea but it is a good idea I get one


September 2, 2009 10:50 AM

I've had a Mini for over 5 yrs and won't buy another. I didn't buy it because it was exclusive, but because it was small and sporty and what I wanted. I think it's irrelevant how many are on the road. I won't buy another because it has quality issues that are unacceptable (it rattles ferociously and expensive things keep breaking on it). The car is simply not very well made. Trying to pump out more of them can't be good for anyone.


September 2, 2009 11:57 AM

Price gas back up to $4+ per gallon and see just how "eccentric" the buyers are. At an honest 35mpg and plenty of room (minis aren't that small on the inside) we will see how many people prefer them to Hondas and Toyotas.

PS With the BMW manufactured engine and Japanese auto transmission the "quality" issues are now moot.


September 2, 2009 12:19 PM

The Mini Cooper is an interesting automobile. It's PT Cruiser meets a VW Bug with a hint of cool. It's definitely a niche product and until it comes up against a family of direct competitors, not just a small hybrid or a VW GTI, Mini USA Vice President Jim McDowell will either have to either keep cashing those checks from increasing sales or slow manufacturing. In times like these, what would you do?

Jacob Charles Dietz

September 2, 2009 1:25 PM

Exclusivity is all perception and the major luxury nameplates are all rolling examples of this. Look in any parking lot in a major city and you'll see Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Lexus and the like filling up the better part of the spots, yet each owner feels that they're in some private club.

Mini could sell 200k units and as long as they keep effectively telling buyers they're a VIP in a members only club, that's all that matters. I already think there's a lot of them out there... like a German PT Cruiser.

Forrest P. Branch

September 2, 2009 1:42 PM

The Mini brand should be kept well under 100,000 units for exclusivity and long-term consumer interest. My goal is to own a mini convertible by 2012!


September 2, 2009 2:46 PM

Karl..... Get a Life!


September 3, 2009 1:33 PM

Consumer have come better informed these days. If the cars offer a perceived good value and quality along along with a touch of exclusivity; people will buy them no matter what.

Peter W.

September 3, 2009 9:33 PM

I dont mind seeing the Mini Hatch, I would probably purchase one when it comes out in 2010.

Me Too, Fed Up With Karl

September 5, 2009 11:49 PM

Karl....If you can't get a life, go bother people on some other forum.


September 6, 2009 10:20 AM

MINI proves to be a solid success story of BMW in Thailand. It has beaten MERCEDES-BENZ A-Class since its inception due to its unique stylish and a clever marketing campaign.
I hope the larger one still have all the good things that the current one have.

Shady J

December 20, 2009 4:11 AM

Unfortunately, it's still being assumed that a Mini is a mini, whereas "Mini" stopped being a mini a long time ago. I mean, just look at it - it's huge!. Back in the old days, what made a Mini unique wasn't only its size (or lack of it thereof), but also what it could do with it. Now, suburban moms and fake-blond secretaries want more headroom and more trunk space for the groceries/makeup bags. And this is what we got: a big mini.

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