BMW Mini + Airstream = Mistimed?

Posted by: Helen Walters on March 19, 2009

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BMW has consistently positioned its Mini line as more than just a car. Instead, it’s a lifestyle brand, with a range of driver accessories and even its own attempt at an online social network, sorry, “urban initiative,” called Mini Space. A host of other marketing initiatives, both on and offline, are all designed to play on the car’s perky appeal. The latest: this partnership with iconic RV maker, Airstream, on a surf-styled concept for both that will be unveiled at the Salone del Mobile in Milan next month. The collaboration, with Danish furniture makers Republic of Fritz Hansen, installs sleek wood paneling throughout both the Mini Cooper S Clubman and the Airstream trailer. The car, meanwhile, gets wetsuit accents on its seats while the 22 foot trailer has a waterproof interior.

Despite the incredibly cheesy styling of the imagery, the partnership of Mini and Airstream seems a match in terms of brand values. Still, I can't help but wonder about initiatives like this. Given the economic environment and the grim news coming from the auto industry writ such large, one-off projects seem ripe to be filed under "nice but unnecessary." BMW recently laid off 850 Mini workers from its Cowley plant in the UK, and Mini sales were down 35% in January compared to the year before, according to the AP. BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer was "bullish" at a press conference held yesterday, but backed away from an earlier forecast of vehicles, including Minis, that would be sold this year, which he said was off by some 100,000. (See my colleague Jack Ewing's report from that event.) As for Airstream, well, RV sales have been in freefall for some time, down 32.9% in 2008 on the year before, and expected to be yet lower in 2009, according to industry association, the RVIA.

Concepts are certainly part and parcel of the auto design world. But this was strictly a one-off. "It is through concept studies like these that we communicate our MINI brand values of cool, out of the box thinking," wrote a BMW spokeswoman in an email. In other words, it's just for buzz. And while many argue that taking the foot of the innovation/design gas pedal in times of crisis will mean you're poorly positioned on the grid when the economy turns around, the timing of it feels wrong to me. What do you think?

Reader Comments

NetSlob

March 20, 2009 5:52 PM

It depends on how you look at it. The partnership spotlights that Airstreams are stylish and lightweight (easy to tow = better fuel economy).

As for the surfer theme, summer will soon be upon us. So from this standpoint, it seems perfectly timed. Especially since the goal is just to create buzz and conversation.

If you like Airstreams, check out TheLongLongHoneymoon.com -- a great Airstream travel blog!

streamer

March 22, 2009 10:30 AM

Since both vehicles were based on existing models, there can't have been much cost, so what's the harm? A cool diversion in these grim times, at worst, and a creative catalyst for both companies, at best.

Steve

March 23, 2009 7:15 AM

I'd agree with NetSlob... Sure the auto and RV industries are having a tough time right now, but what do you want them to do, roll over and do nothing to promote themselves.

Surely anything they can do to ignite interest in these two iconic brands, whose work forces and dealers must be struggling, is work a punt.

Not everyone is skint. There are still plenty of people out there who can afford a new Mini or an Airstream.

Andy Proehl

March 25, 2009 4:54 PM

Chris Deam, the guy who first introduced the idea of modernizing the interior of the Airstream to match the exterior gave a great TED talk about this a few years back. I don’t see it on the website otherwise I would share it. You can check out Chris’ design on his website, http://www.cdeam.com/cdeam.htm (click on the “Bambi Prototype” link).

The original Airstream design was somewhat schizophrenic… the romantic 1950s modernism of cars and WWII bombers on the outside and a knotty-pine, cabin-in-the-woods aesthetic on the inside. Deam’s thoughts were that the two should be harmonized. He also made the point that since Aistream’s original target customers are dying off, they need to find ways to have the next generation embrace the brand. The mini campaign plays into that strategy.

As someone with a dream to drive from the sunsets of San Diego to the Northern Lights of Alaska while towing an Airstream (much to my wife’s consternation)… I’m behind Mini (and Airstream’s) attempt to keep my dream alive.

lars

March 16, 2010 3:11 AM

Surfers and dinghy sailors have one thing in common, they don't care about a stylish car, and surfers rather want to have a practical car. That can handle sailor’s equipment. This product makes it worse since it is a little unpractical car and a huge airstream. The next thing are the furniture's in the airstream, it's too stylish and expensive and when the owners are surfing furniture will properly be stolen at the same time.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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