Brand History: MINI and VW

Some interesting thoughts in a recent FastCompany article about turning your back on brand history and how it relates to MINI and VW (via DC):

In their endless rush to embrace the next big thing, too many businesses have forgotten what they are and what they really do. The fashionable compulsion to break with the past has, bizarrely, come to mean abandoning the true value they once offered customers.

The latest evidence comes courtesy of Volkswagen of America, which has, over the past few years, lost the plot of its own brand story–efficient “people’s” cars with minimalist interiors and mechanics. Expanding its offerings to a luxury sedan and an SUV, and filling its most basic models with plastic and padding, VW turned off its core constituency. Meanwhile, BMW rose to fill VW’s abandoned niche with its Mini Cooper: simple, solid, and small. So after four years of declining market share, what does VW do? It hires Mini Cooper’s advertising agency!

It’s as if companies can’t fathom that the most powerful link they have with customers is their products themselves. A car company says more to its customers with the placement of its cup holders than it does in any TV advertisement. A credit card company communicates to its users through the privileges it offers–not some silly online Seinfeld “Webisode.

[ Back in the Box ] Fast Company

So my open question to MF readers is this; What do you fear the MINI brand becoming? Where do you want to see it go? How can MINI stay true to it’s heritage (both past and present) yet remain successful and relevant in the modern marketplace?

Written By: Gabe

  • snid

    Here’s my “where I’d like to see MINI go” list, which doesn’t make much sense. :)

    Keep a low-spec car available. Lighter is better than more powerful. I love my Cooper – all 115hp of it. I love that people think “1.6 litres and 115 hp? How can you stand to drive that?” and then I go flying around the track at HPDE events.

    I don’t like the thought that all the MINIs will end up being heavier, and more powerful. Sure, a majority of the on-line presence loves their 200hp hopped-up MCSs. Not for me, though. Keep building “the underdog” please.

    And, as a dream, a light weight, 2 seat, removable hardtop speedster.

    Keep it light, keep it simple.

  • Trick

    Curious: Is there a precedent for a MINI Speedster?

  • hugh

    I bought a new 70 Beetle and new 74 Rabbit. Loved them. In the 80s I went to Volvo 240 and 740 to accomodate my growing family. With empty-nest syndrome, not knowing how much VW had changed, I returned, buying a new 99.5 Jetta VR6.

    Woe was me. I experienced everything bad you ever heard about that pos. Sold it at at a tremendous loss (had to wholesale it)this year when I got my 05MCS.

    I shudder to think that I was so brainwashed by the VW mystique, that in January of this year, when they were selling GTI VR6s at $5000 below msrp, in spite of all of the forums like VW Sucks, My Lemon VW, a dealer network of complete idiots, and abandonment by VWOA, I still considered buying one.

    Fortuitously, I test drove an MCS first, fell in love, and the rest is history.

    I love my MCS like I loved my Beetle and Rabbit.I too fear for what the future holds. I’m seriously thinking of trading it in for an 06, just in case. MINI may well go the route of VW. BMW is very unpredictable. They’ve made serious marketing blunders and there’s no assurance that the MINI will be immune to various upsizing, upscaling marketing ploys if they abandon their present market and try to capture a larger share of the upper income market.

  • Bruce

    It’s true the original Mini was a clever economy car, but in its final decade of production (the 1990s) the Mini could no longer compete as an econobox and enjoyed a renaissance. It was sold then solely on nostalgia and its considerable sporting and luxury credentials. This helped lead the way to the launch of the new MINI.

  • shep

    I too am concerned about frequent changes of visual design, made apparently just to “freshen up” the appearance. If you take the myriad cosmetic differences between the ’02 and the ’06, and extrapolate this for a dozen or two years into the future, the 2020 Mini will look very different indeed from the 2002 model. This is a bad idea, given that most of the ’02 design is so darned good. (One exception: a square SatNav looks silly in a circular surround).

    It’s a different matter for me with engine, brakes, transmission, etc. By all means continue to update the mechanicals.

    For me, the Classic Mini never looked the same once they replaced the original downcurved radiator grille with the hexagonal-shaped one. And that’s a lot less change than I see in the new Minis already!

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    For all those who are worried about MINI tampering with it’s iconic design, don’t be. MINI and BMW execs have said time and time again that they hope to emulate Porsche in it’s slow evolution of the 911. It’s almost been a mantra over the years.

  • Ryan

    Does anyone else think the turbocharged new joint venture engine is unMINI? Because at the least it is opposite of 50 years of BMW philosophy. What happened to higher compression ratios and higher-revving engines? If Honda can get 240 horses normally aspirated out of an I-4 in the S2000 why can’t MINIget anywhere near that with forced induction? And seriously 9,000 RPM is exciting. Higher compression ratios make sense because MINI insists on high-octane gas anyway even though it isn’t needed. Thoughts?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    I think it’s really just the opposite. The engine will have valvtronic (although they can’t use the term due to copyright issues) among other BMW technologies. It’ll be by far more BMW like in it’s use of technology than the current iron block Tritec. This may help:

    [ New MINI/PSA Engine Range in Detail ] MotoringFile

  • http://AGREGAT.org Paladin7

    By all means, much of the new MINI’s success can be attributed to the history of the brand. I suspect however, that many bought for what it is now regardless of the noble history. Like art, if the perfomance and looks of a car are too unpreditable, it will not appeal to the buying public. On the otherhand, if things are too predictable, the fickle public can lose interest. By genius or luck (probably some of both), BMW created a design with lasting appeal.

    I enjoy my 03 Cooper EVERYTIME I get in it. I love the perfomance, handling and the design. The lines of the body evoke a classic but not nostalgic appeal. They combined the best of the past with the right mix of novelty and found that sweet spot between boredom and chaos in a form that I will enjoy for many years to come.

    So many cars on the road today look and feel the same. I used to be able to tell a Chrysler from a Ford, from a Chevy right down to make a model just from the headlights at a distance. Now I can’t tell them apart in broad daylight. This is not because I am not capable, but because they are all so boring and samo samo that I am not drawn to them anymore. But a 1965 mustang reamins a thing of beauty. Car makers don’t always know what makes their cars appealing. How many Mona Lisa’s could Leonardo paint?

    As for the future of MINI it is the engineering and art that will tell. The Traveller may serve a different function, but if it can be innovative without being too unpredictable and can keep from looking like everything else out there, it will succeed. That is a fine line to walk for any business.

    I like the small, efficient, peppy fun of my 03 Cooper. I just ordered an 06 Cooper S. In the future, regardless of the looks or size, if the MINI’s don’t have the fun of the models of today, I will look for something else or keep mine going for as long as I can.

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