Here's the debate: Can repackaging the basic car strengthen the brand and increase sales?
BMW’s slumping Mini brand is adding what it calls a crossover to its lineup, as the fourth model.
The Mini Countryman is needed in the U.S. and globally to reverse a sales decline of the minicars after their marketing momentum, which allowed premium pricing for what are after all econoboxes, ran out of fuel as the Great Recession took hold during the past 18 months.
Countryman – and it won’t be called that in all markets – follows the original Mini two-door, the Clubman and the Convertible. As the first four-door in the line, it will debut at the Geneva Auto show in March. Countryman will be sold in the U.S. beginning early 2011, while sales in Europe and some other markets outside North America will begin in the fall of 2010.
Last year, worldwide Mini sales came in at 216,538, a roughly 7% drop in a depressed industry. In the U.S., volumes were off 16%, falling to 45,225, but that was still better than the industry overall drop of 24%, officials point out.
Country is still extremely small for the U.S. mass market – 4,097 millimeters or 161.3 inches in length. At first glance, it appears to be just a renaming and repackaging of existing models, although executives say it is a new platform. The wheelbase has been stretched a bit to 2,595 millimeters or 102.2 inches. And the body height has been raised to increase visibility on roads where much larger crossovers abound. All-wheel-drive is optional.
It will be interesting to see if buyers respond to what could be characterized as just the same old crossover formula applied to the smallest vehicle by far of the class — if you can call this a crossover at all. Put the other way, is this an innovative approach to extending the Mini brand, which follows the successful Mini formula?
A split/folding three-seat bench is available as a no-cost option.
Countryman comes with four seats. A three-seat rear bench is available as a no-cost option. The rear seats move fore-and-aft, either individually or in a 60:40 split for the three-seat bench. The backrests may be tilted for angle either individually or in a 40:20:40 (three-seat bench) arrangement, increasing capacity in the luggage compartment from 350 to 1,170 liters or 12-41 cu. ft.