The iconic MINI brand, despite having its model range grow exponentially over the past decade, is apparently in the midst of an existential crisis. According to Automotive News, customers in the US, the world’s largest auto market, are ditching small cars for more spacious crossovers and pick-up trucks, and MINI is having a hard time catching up.
However, BMW Group seems optimistic about MINI’s future and is doubling down on it, with plans to add more crossovers and two-door hatchbacks. In fact, BMW Group sales boss Pieter Nota said turning around the MINI business in the US requires new products, and that includes fresh offerings.
Nota added that there are developments in small crossovers as well. “That’s a growing segment. Without revealing anything, we will see growth in that segment.” He also went on to say that MINI’s core customer group is not growing, so moving into new segments could attract new buyers.
Crossovers accounted for 38% of the US light-vehicle market last year, up from 27% five years ago. During that period, small-car market share shrank from 18% to 12%. MINI’s largest model, the Countrymancompact crossover, was the brand’s bestselling nameplate through June this year, although general sales in the US have been steadily declining since its peak volume of 66,502 units in 2013.
This affects dealer profitability, and consolidation efforts have seen MINI share operating facilities with BMW, splitting backroom expenses to help defray operating costs and real estate overhead. But this doesn’t mean that MINI is giving up on the US market. If anything, Nota said he’s optimistic that forthcoming models, including the new MINI Electric, will create a healthy future for the brand in the US.
Speaking of the future, future new models are tipped to be electrified, either partially or fully electric. BMW Group execs have yet to confirm plans to electrify the entire MINI line-up, but existing platforms are already modular enough to accommodate conventional engine, hybrid, and full electric propulsion. As of now, the Countryman plug-in hybrid is currently the brand’s sole electrified vehicle.
For now, the current MINI range may be spared from electrification, “but for the next generation, we might still have surprises for you,” said Elena Eder, product development chief for MINI’s electric programme. Nota, however, insists that internal combustion engines will continue to power MINIs.
“We see certainly a significant role for electric in MINI. But there is also going to be a place for our John Cooper Works because there is serious customer demand there,” he said. “So, we will also have some really exciting combustion engines for the MINI brand.”