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?

  • Well they are both right and wrong about VW in their article. VW has gone off the track and gotten away from the way they used to do things, which is bad. But VW adding luxury to the Passat and bringing in the Touraeg were not bad moves. The Passat sells decently and is without a doubt the most bang for your buck.

    Anyway, MINI and fears. My fear is that MINI stops keeping an eye on the current MINI owners. By looking at our clubs, our events, our enthusiasts they can keep in touch and say,”ok if we have to change something, don’t change this because the people love this.” The moment they lose eyesight of us is the moment MINI starts to head down the VW path.

  • minihaha

    Mini must continue to reflect its’ past, that is one of the main reasons the New Mini is so popular. We have seen some pretty far out concept vehicles of late and in my opinion they will alienate the core mini buyer. Mini is one of those unique brands that crosses many demographics, young 18 years +, people with young families and older baby boombers. It should remain a fun to drive, well engineered, put a smile on your face vehicle in order to stay viable. BMW have enough products in their portfolio to cater to the luxury, money no object set. The KISS principle (Keep It Simple S****d) should apply. Don’t forget what got you here!!

  • Z4MINI

    I think the writer of the article is a bit off track True about VW, but the current MINI product does not appeal to the OLD MINI buyer because the products are targeted at vastly dissimilar tastes. The original Mini was a pure econo-box with no amenities to speak off. No radio. No A/C. and with the 800 A-series engine, not a lot of performance either. Not to mention in the US, there really was no OLD Mini demographic.

    Thankfully the new MINI is NOT an econo-box, because Nissan/Toyota/Hyundai have that niche filled several times over.

    I also suspect that MINI is not stealing too many of VW’s traditional customer as suggested in the article. I have yet to meet anyone who owned a Golf prior to owning a MINI. More likely, at least in the US, they are getting customers from Japanese makes.

  • dickdavid

    I’m not sure where the brand is going, but I really like where it is. It’s the perfect combination of well designed engineering that’s made for the regualar income guy. It’s like what BMW did with the 2002 so many years back.

    I won’t mind so much if the market get saturated, like the Beetle did, as long as the MINI community stays strong.

  • TiMINITim

    I would agree that the original Mini was a pure econo-box, but I think the new MINI was developed to attach to the ‘image’ of Mini, which for many is the Monte Carlo race, the handling, and the wring-it-out performance for minimal money. So, to say the new MINI is not true to the original….I would agree. But the new MINI is true to the ‘image’ many have. MINI has done a good job of identifying a market….efficeint – performace – still good daily driver. They didn’t try to fit into an already saturated market of econo-boxes.

    For the future, MINI needs to continue offering good cars that fill a niche. The traveler concept does that, a niche of performance car with (just) enough room for cargo and (small) family. MINI will be headed down the wrong path when they try to compete in a market area that is already saturated. This is what VW is doing, going from their niche into a saturated market of SUVs and luxury coupes. It may work, but only if they are able to sell the new image of VW before the new models bankrupt them.

  • Jon

    I think Mini are going to offer a stripped down, back to basics car. Minus the rear seats, and 80kg of weight and offer it at an inflated price. Maybe they’re already steering away from Mini’s heritage?

  • dr

    The MINI was brought back with connections to its performance heritage not it’s “peoples car” heritage. at a base price of over 16k it is not a peoples car but it is a quite affordable enthusiasts car! Dont bet on MINI being very tied to heritage!

    The KIA is todays “peoples car” and soon a few Chinese manufactures will begin exporting thier own “peoples cars”. You know those cars that all the MINI owners look down on, and ridicule….Those are the peoples cars.


    im afraid the car will become more refined. what we have now is a solid, well built car but it is anything but refined. it has some creaks, the engines have a grunt to them and it all fits nicely together. once they start refining it, softer suspension, quieter engine, smoother transmission, nicer interior, bla bla bla it all sounds nice but it wont be a MINI anymore…….

  • Trick

    Fear? That MINI will evolve (devolve?) into just another bloated, luxo-pig of a hatchback—see fourth generation GTI, see also last hatchback Civic Si.

    This is a real fear. When was the last time you heard about the next generation of a vehicle being lighter? Or smaller?

    Can’t put this all on the carmakers, well not all of it. When was the last time you saw the Feds retract a “safety” feature?

    Keeping options available ala cart is good way to keep weight down, but also a great way to not alienate new buyers. Doing this allows first time buyers to get a foot in the door. If someone wants to go more upscale as their income increases, send ’em next door to the Bimmer dealership. I’m not dissing the fact that you can spec out a $37,000 MINI. That’s great. Just don’t force the cost of entry past half that amount.

    I actually like where MINI is heading with the Traveller. Take the concepts for what they are: concepts. I don’t think they’ll see the light of day as production vehicles. But just as Mini offered a four door model, I think it’s critical for MINI to do the same. We’re not talking an SUV here, just something on the same platform, but with four doors. Amaze people that you can have four useful doors in a package that small.

    To stay true to the heritage I think this means four things:

    1. Keep the car as light/small as possible. That’s part of what makes it fun to drive. Leverage technology in good ways to make this happen. Lots of room in a small form factor, wheels pushed to the corners, etc. This also means no AWD. We don’t need it. Good handling can more than make up for extra powertrain. This has been proven look at the Targa Newfoundland. Which brings me to 2. . .

    2. Stay active in motorsports. It’s the brands claim to fame. Road Rallys, Solo 1 and 2, the various MINI Cups, drag racing. Hell, I’d love to see a MINIUSA sponosored One Lap car. Anything but NASCAR (no sllight on NASCAR, see 1 above). Nothing reinforces the brand to enthusiasts like putting drivers on the podium.

    3. Continue to innovate. MINI got to where it is by offering a car that was unique. The perfect blend of retro, without being cliche. They forced form to follow function, while staying true to the demeanor of the original. In an age of LCD touchscreens they went with toggle switches (MININAV excluded), the proved that a small car could be safe in a world of SUVs, etc. They just need to keep it up.

    4. Make certain it continues to be a quality product. Again, VW serves as what not to do. They allowed a bad couple of years of suppliers to completely crap out their reputation reguarding quality. They are still paying that bill. And a new ad agency isn’t going to fix that. If there’s an issue, address it promptly and fairly.

    I need more coffee.

  • ChrisW

    I didn’t go from a Golf to a MINI, but I did go from a Passat to a MINI.

    The Passat I owned (a 2000 1.8T model) was a fantastic car for the price. I paid $23k with leather, moonroof, alloys, and upgraded audio package. Unfortunately, I think VW abandoned its “bang for the buck” approach with its new models, and I think that will hurt them tremendously (anyone priced a Jetta lately? Ouch!!!). And VW decided to go upscale without fixing basic quality problems first. How many VW window regulators failed over how many years before VW finally fixed the design? Completely unacceptable. I was lucky with my Passat windows, but my brother has had 2 Golfs (actually one Golf and a 337 GTI) and both have had the windows automagically fall into the doors. Classy!

    I did have to drop $800 on a new O2 sensor and purge canister (whatever that is) just 30k miles in though. That certainly made me uneasy about the long-term prospects of my car. I hope my MINI fares better.

    VW is a ship without a rudder right now.

    I think the new king of sporty value is Mazda with the 6 and the 3.

    My advice to MINI: look at what VW is doing, do the opposite. With all the reports of the next MINI being “bigger,” plus all the rumored variants, I worry that MINI is following VW’s dark road.

  • Micah
    I also suspect that MINI is not stealing too many of VW’s traditional customer as suggested in the article. I have yet to meet anyone who owned a Golf prior to owning a MINI.

    I owned multiple VWs (’73 Karmann Ghia, ’89 helios blue Jetta GLI, ’98 GTI VR6) before picking up my space blue / silver Mini Cooper S less than two weeks ago.

    I absolutely love the Mini, and feel that it does recapture some of that nimble lightweight feel that characterized earlier VWs. My Mini is fairly “stripped” in that I only selected xenons, LSD, fogs, MFSW, and anthracite headliner as options — and I really appreciate the basic, driver-focused spec that Mini allows when building your own car. VW really dropped the ball in this area, as in recent years when ordering a GTI you had to get leather, sunroof, climate control and all this extra crap that I had no interest in having in the car I drove. Even with the new Mk5 GTI, the buyer has very little control over specifying options, and IMO this, combined with the ridiculous overhangs and portly weight, has driven many potential buyers away from VW and toward Mini.

  • Tim in MD

    I fear that MINI will try to become all things to all people, that market share will start driving their strategy rather than understanding that it is a niche vehicle. I fear a MINI SUV. I fear that the price point will continue to move up along with vehicle size so that you no longer have what attracted people to the brand in the first place…witness what BMW itself has done. BMW really has no basic sport sedan in their lineup and hasn’t for some time. The new 3-series is hugely upmarket in terms of price and luxury items and gadgetry–as was probably necessary to remain competitive in their sales arena. The reality is that drivers who want a supremely competent vehicle with the basics executed well, encumbered with a minimum of fluff, do not make up a large part of the market and so will not be a major factor in the diretion of a volume brand. I worry that MINI will go in the same direction…the reality is that MINI cannot appeal to everybody as there are a number of compromises in terms of space and comfort inherent to the current model. If that model is adjusted to appeal to 90% of the market, once again enthusiasts will be left behind and another great brand will be diluted.

  • Steve

    What MINI needs to concentrate on is less the advertising glitz and more the owners. What could be better than 50,000 advocates talking about how great the car is? More MINI events throughout the country would certainly peak the interest of the potential buyers. People like to be involved with their assets. People like to enjoy their houses, and likewise, their cars. Make people fee good and the word of mouth will sell the cars.

    Feeling good also equates to great customer service, not just good. If the customer service is great, owners will overlook little problems, and promote the brand.

  • mb

    I don’t fear the MINI brand becoming something new, something more, something we won’t like. I don’t fear it because its where the people with power tend to take these companies (Cayanne anyone?) It just happens, so instead of being sad about it, I am happy I have a first generation new MINI. I’m happy I owned an e30 BMW before they started cost-cutting and complicating everything. I’m happy I dictated what I wanted and bought the right cars, and I’m happy to move away from a marque (without complaining) if it no longer satisfies MY needs.


  • Youch, long replies, not a lot of time. Will catch up later, but personally, I believe MINI should follow a few basic guidelines. Including, most importantly, remaining a solid, unique, and best-bang-for-your-buck buy. The base model should remain small, and economical. And stuffed with quality (like currently). At the same time, it’d be great for MINI to continue to be a solid performer – not to get bogged down in the “larger engines, more hp” race (who cares, at the end of the day, talking about minute differences in HP is just penis-measuring), but to remain a class-leader in handling. And ultimately a fun performer.

    Keep the off-beat PR and outlook, but don’t go overboard. Thin line to walk, but they’ve done it so far, imho. =]

  • KevinR

    I had an ’00 VR6 Jetta prior to my MINI Cooper S. I also own an ’03 New Beetle 1.8T. I bought the MINI to replace the Jetta because the Jetta was totaled and I wanted something different, not because I thought VW had “lost their way.” To me, the three cars are far more similar than most MINI enthusiasts would like to admit.

    Unfortunately, within the last 2 months, my MINI (2 yrs, 34k miles) has developed more warranty repair items than the two VWs combined (4 yrs, 73k miles on the Jetta; 2 yrs, 22k miles on the Beetle).

    Given the problems I read about online and am personally experiencing, along with everything I have read about the upcoming ’07 MINI (read: larger, more refined), I believe that MINI is headed in exactly the same direction as VW.

  • Timothy

    Saab is another example along the lines of VW. In the U.S., Saab got rid of its hatchback! Can you imagine? GM is destroying Saab. Chevy has a hatchback (Malibu) and Saab doesn’t. Ugh.

    MINI should be mini, first and always. That means that the engineers need to focus on space efficiency and hold the line on exterior dimensions. They did with the Cabrio, and they can do it with a four door. (Or how about just adding one backseat door? How about a MINI pickup which simply turns the rear seats into foldable sideways jump seats to free up a small exterior cargo bin?)

    Tone down the “cute” a little. Not everything needs to be round. The classic Mini was a little boxy. The inside of a MINI shouldn’t look like a cosmetics purse, thank you.

    Be performance-oriented but with efficiency. Fuel efficiency lags right now. Please fix that. Lose weight, too (or at least let us keep the options list down to save weight).

    Keep the true stick shift in every model (and pseudo-manual shifting in every automatic). You may not sell as many sticks as you’d like in the U.S., but it’s important for image (and I’ll buy the stick :-)). Although it would be nice if you put a white “R” light on the dash if you’re going to put R and 1st next to each other.

    Keep up the humor. For example, how about a ~$150 Sound Package option which would provide a more trucklike horn (and “Rule Britannia”?) and a “beep beep” reverse feature to warn people when your MINI backs up? Or a dealer-installed “cow catcher” option (no less ridiculous than on those suburban dwelling SUVs)? OK, not sure about the cow catcher, but the beep beep reverse would be funny.

    Stick to interior simplicity, at least before options. iDrive? Please, no! Make the instrumentation as simple as possible to get the job done.

    Improve safety. Start with making DSC standard across the line. Make front seat four point belts an option. (It’s sporting, too.)

  • Steve

    I am surprised that MINI is so quickly changing its styling: interior and exterior. From the first classic mini to the last you see a very suttle difference in styling, yet people love them and they were voted second for Car of the Century. It seems as though MINI is trying to be like the new car manufacturer’s, changing style every 3 to 4 years. What first attracted me most to the new MINI is that it pulled so much from the old in styling. I am holding on to my ’04 because I love driving in a car that has an antiquarian feel when inside rather than the new space age look of the R56 MINI. Exterior doesn’t seem to have changed much with the upcoming MINI, but when I see the concepts at the shows, they sure are fitting in with the rest of the crowd. Let’s stay unique, and deeply tied to our roots. Keep refining not defining.

  • Col.Bobby

    The classic Mini WAS actually an econobox with rather good performance characteristics. However, the Mini image was of a “cute”, Munchkin sized vehicle. The general public were unaware of the performance qualities that made it into a “cult” object. The new Mini is not an econobox, because that was never part of the image, and that would eliminate any potential for profit. Mini has tried to keep the new version as small as possible while still providing “sport car” handling, and they have done an excellent job. Mini will kill the brand if they increase the size above “curiously small”. I don’t see much room to increase the base price either, because even a “cult” member can be priced out of the market, while in the higher price range the performance compact market (including sports cars) becomes quite competetive (BMX Z-3, AUDI TT, MAZDA MX-5, etc.) It will be interesting to see how the “clubman” sells, as it is departing from “curiously small” ideal.

  • Bilbo Baggins

    One of the things that intrigued me about the original Mini was how it managed to continue to be produced over the years without making major changes to the basic concept of the vehicle. I just hope that BMW can follow their lead.

    I hope that I never live to see a stretched MINI with 4 doors, or an SUV MINI. The original concept of a small 3 door, sporty, practical car needs to be kept. Keep the wheelbase where it is, keep the weight down, or certainly don’t let it get any heavier. Keep the family resemblence to the original Mini as a strong design mandate.

    For over 50 years it was easy to recognise a Mini because they stuck to their roots and design basics. I just hope that BMW/MINI can do the same. Add other models, but always keep the basic MINI as we know it now, that is what will develop a strong following and brand loyalty.


  • Micah
    Start with making DSC standard across the line

    Please God “No!” — IMHO keep the electronic driver “aids” as extra cost options, therefore saving money for those of us who don’t want a computer driving a car for us!

  • Mark (Ohio)

    I fear the MINI brand becoming known for being cheap in quality or a bad value, ie. overpriced plastic.

    I’d like to see MINI remain a niche automaker (I know that’s not what they want).

    I’d like MINI to choose analog when deciding digital or analog (no iDrive!), I’d like MINI to choose function over form, I’d like MINI to choose performance over efficiency, I’d like MINI to choose quality over price, I’d like MINI to always mean fun to drive.

    On the customer service side of things, I’d like for BMW dealerships to service and possibly order MINI’s in the USA!


  • J. R. Rutherford

    I fear Mini choosing to go the cost cutting route. I wonder with the new engines, turbochargers instead of superchargers and the new “updated” body styles if this isn’t already occuring. Manufacturing costs are important but too many cuts from a wildly successful product are not wise.

    I guess I am not overly concerned because I already own a 2004 S. I will keep it unless something better arises. Only others will be left out.

    I am also concerned at the poor service I have encountered at my dealership. If this is a Mini problem and not just a local dealer problem they have some serious issues. Impossible to get in to see for even the most routine service and uncooperative and unfriendly even at their best. A sad state of affairs which will hurt the brand. Enthusiasts are more picky than the average KIA buyer and need to be catered to. I like the idea of opening up Mini to all BMW dealers. It would allow competition and choice. Always a good thing.

  • Theo

    I tend to think MINI has things under control. To fear a substantial change in its philosophy or its product may be natural, but MINI are smart enough to recognize what is behind their success: the car.

    We all know how different the MINI’s advertising was; something that hadn’t been seen before. Imagine if MINI had not had such a unique advertising campaign…would that have negatively impacted sales? It was THE CAR that brought us to the showrooms, not the ads. Herein is the point of the article.

    My perception is that MINI will not substantially change what it is doing in an effort to increase profit or widen its market. Instead, it will carefully scrutinize marketing opportunities and leverage its brand into spaces that make sense for its product philosophy.

    As for the future…I’ll be looking for a high-torque electric/hybrid engine wrapped in MINI handling in another 5 to 7 years.

  • IanF

    My biggest fear about the MINI is they lose the a la cart options. I know it’s expensive for MINI to offer so many individual options, but it’s part of what makes the car so special – very few are alike.

    VW has gone even farther down the road of “packaged options only.” My 2003 car could not be spec’d the same way the following year – certain options could not be put together despite the fact the individual items did not change.

    The next biggest fear is that MINI will fall into the VW (and BMW) trap of making each new model slightly larger & heavier than the car it replaces.

  • Nathaniel Salzman

    Wow, a lot of great comments from everybody.

    For me, my question is one of motivation. We’re on the verge of significant changes in the MINI line and therefore the MINI brand. Why? MINI can’t even build the current car as fast as they’re selling them. Show me another car for less than $20,000 that has a backorder measured in months.

    “Innovation” is the buzz word the car industry is enamored with right now. Ford is attempting to position itself as some sort of innovative car company in its new marketing campaign, which is almost as hilarious as “quality is job #1”. Dodge just launched an updated Ram truck, GM launched two convertibles (in winter no less!), and VW has blanded-out the new Passat and Jetta. Meanwhile, MINI continues to sell more cars than it can build. I would hate to see MINI “innovate” for the sake of “innovating” like all the other, less successful, automakers are doing right now.

    Show a non-enthusiast a 1972 Mini and a 1992 Mini side-by-side and they’ll probably not be able to tell you the difference. Yet the Mini is the best-selling car of all time. Why then does the MINI need to change significantly after only four years?

    It’s been said, but I’ll say it again. What I worry about in terms of ruining the MINI brand is what usually ruins good brands: trying to be all things to all people. I worry about MINI listening to focus groups instead of owners. I worry about MINI losing its backbone and shying away from what’s made it such a great car – all the things that have been listed today – performance, economy, style heritage, racing pedigree, customizability, price-point accessibility, build quality, warranty, and an owner experience highlighted by great customer service. I really like what Steve said, “Keep refining, not defining” and I think that’s the core issue here.

    I worry also a bit about the new powerplant, as it has some “innovation for innovation’s sake” features in my opinion. A water pump that turns on and off is just begging for trouble. They’ve taken one of the simplest, most neccesary functions and complicated it. Why? So the car will warm up in 5 minutes instead of 10? Where do you live, Siberia? And I shall not rant again on my mourning over the loss of the supercharger. I furthermore hope that the new motor is able to enjoy the same “bulletproof” reputation the current engine has earned from drivers and tuners alike. I’m skeptical to say the least.

    That said, I don’t think the R56 will be a step too far in the wrong direction. From what we can tell, the exterior changes will be minimal, performance and efficiency should be the same if not a bit better, and things like the clamshell bonnet are being retained. The interior, however, I do feel will have way too much electronics (such as the integrated stereo head unit into the speedo and that iDrive garbage) and not simply the basic functions drivers want and need. I too am a minimalist when it comes to such things. I don’t want a multi-function display. I want guages. I don’t want touch screens (nav excluded), I want physical switches. I want to have that tactile experience of interacting with the car. Furthermore I don’t want the MINI to ride like a 7-series BMW. I want to feel the road in the seat of my pants and feel the engine through the pedals and shifter.

    I also don’t think that the Traveler, in its more modest real-world trim, is a step in the wrong direction either. In fact, I think the Traveler is one of the only logical expansions to the MINI line you could make. There are plenty of small pickups in the world, but not too many small sedans hatches that drive like serious sports coupes and bring together all that’s offered in a MINI.

    That said, however, I do also worry about price creep. The MINI is consistantly labeled as a “premium small car” and up to now, it’s price-point has been pretty accessible. I truly hope that continues. I’d love to have an MCS and a Traveler in my garage someday. But if the Traveler is $30,000 base, that becomes pretty unlikely. MINI has done a great job keeping the price creep to a minimum despite the exchange rates and I hope they keep that up. Little reason not to, I would think, since as I said, they’re selling more cars than they can build.

  • I already owned a 2003 Passat and was considering a 2004 Jetta GLI (old style) when I heard the MCS was coming out in an automatic trans. Then after a test drive of both I was sold on the MINI. Our Passat is great and has remained trouble free. VW screwed itself from 2000-2004 and is now trying to fix all that.

    So yeah VW has lost a bunch of customers to MINI judging by these replies.

  • Nathaniel Salzman


    I second the call for BMW dealers to be able to at least service MINIs if not order them. I’m 3 hours from the nearest dealership. Here here!

  • Siddhartha

    I think Trick is on the money.

    If MINI can manage to do what Mazda has done with the Miata, we’re in for a long ride.

    The motorsport potential of this car is just beginning. Look at the Solo2 Championships this year where EVERY CAR in the first three places in both Mens and Ladies G and H Stock were MINIS.

    The John Cooper Challenge Series is very popular in Europe and Phil Wicks has said he’d like to see the MINI Challenge as popular here in the States. I can’t wait to see my first MINI Challenge Race at Laguna in 2 weeks!

    It would be great if MINI gets behind grassrooots racing with sponsorships and contingency money in the near future. And I’d love to see a MINI ad with all of this year’s autocross winners on a podium.

  • Z4MINI
    It would be great if MINI gets behind grassrooots racing with sponsorships and contingency money in the near future.

    MINI has had a contingency program for the last 3 years. It’s posted on their website.

  • tsukiji
    It would be great if MINI gets behind grassrooots racing with sponsorships and contingency money in the near future.

    Woo-hoo, Spec MINI — I can hardly stand the wait…

  • Before we see a Spec MINI series the prices on the resale market are going to need to come down, which means the Jim in Ohio’s of the world are going to be sadly disappointed. Spec Miata works IMO because cars can be had for a reasonable price on the used market. We’re not there yet with the MINI. Maybe another couple years and it’ll be approachable.

  • Brendan

    I agree with the initial assertion that VW has lost it’s way. The best example is the bastardization of the beetle. The old beetle definitely has mini-like qualitites. Small, fun to drive, and fairly well built. People loved that car. As a kid my dad had a 1970 beetle which was just awesome. I think VW definitely screwed the pooch there. It’s a shame that you take the iconic design of the beetle (rear engine rwd) and throw that all away. The new beetle was probably one of VW’s biggest mistakes. They could have definitely done something more along the lines of mini making a very desirable car. Since porsche is part of the company I am sure they could have leveraged some of the more advanced rear-engine rwd engineering in a new design of the beetle. This is where VW made the mistake. This is where mini prevailed.

    Yes now most people do desire some sort of gadgetry in their cars, and I must admit I fall into that category. The mini however is one of the best executed re-designs of a past icon, and they still were able to add a fair amount of updated options/technologies to the car, while still keeping the driving experience pure. With that said mini could go upmarket, or make an SUV that’s fine, but don’t mess with success. Leave the base Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S alone. That’s the main thing. VW could have still had “the people’s car” and also added new products to the brand. It seems that marketing teams and engineers are so close minded that they can’t seem to keep around the bread-and-butter products un-molested while adding new products to the range. I think if mini did that they could still expand into different markets without pissing off the enthusiast following and market.

    Porsche is a decent example. Say what you will about the Cayenne… they still have the 911 one of the most iconic designs in vehicle history. Right now I think the 911 probably has one of the most pure porsche 911 exterior designs it’s had in years. Who cares what kind of other crap they make. Big deal. Soccer mommies with piles of cash want porsche SUVs so be it. Buy one and enjoy it.

    If mini needs to expand their range to make more money, and increase market penetration that’s cool. Running a business is about making money and growing market share. Just keep around the bread-and-butter… don’t screw with that and we’ll all be happy.

  • Jeffrey

    Brands, like rock bands, tend to come out with something new that resonates with a group of people. They build a following but if they fail to appeal to the “influencers” (early adopters) and fail to continue to innovate (not new features or remixes, but re-invention), they will continue to lose mindshare to the next latest “trend”. VW has reinvented itself in the past but is getting close to loosing it. MINI beware. 🙂


    Driving a little further to the dealer is OK if it is for a test drive, picking up the car or having infrequent routine service. It becomes a pain if you are one whose car develops other problems frequently. (I’m lucky and not in this group).

  • fdavid

    I am not too sure, but to me it seems as MINI does listen to us in some aspects. I am sure they do read these forums and take note of whats good and what could be improved. Nevertheless, I am also concerned about MINI trying to spread too much and start doing things such as CUV models!

  • Vanwall

    Trick & Nathaniel just about got it, with my agreement on a lot of the other comments. The heritage has always been cornering, and the MINI follows the Mini in this respect. New MINIs are actually closer in general usefullness to the Austin America/Morris 1100, a slightly larger sister to the original Mini, and which was a more practical car for most people – it sold amazingly well in Britain, and bottom line, BMW is in it for the money.

    It would be a hard sell for a 10 ft long performance car in the USA nowadays – the buying public is expecting more useful cars than before. I hope they don’t get away from the basic length of the present coupe version – it’s just about right IMHO, but I know some folks would like a Traveller, and I think that’s a need BMW should address.

    BMW, and any car company, will look for cheaper costs, we just gotta hope for a balance. I also hope they don’t mess with the styling to much – I hate these new snout-styled cars. The original organic styling was just that – one of the first to take advantage of the attraction of neotenous-looking forms to the subconscious, a masterful stroke of marketing, unknowing or not.

    Fingers Crossed.

      Rob in Dago
  • paulsminis

    Way back up top, Z4MINI, said, “The original Mini was a pure econo-box with no amenities to speak off. No radio. No A/C. and with the 800 A-series engine, not a lot of performance either. Not to mention in the US, there really was no OLD Mini demographic.” I can agree with some of what he/she said, like the lack of performance in the 850cc models, and few amenities. However, when the Cooper and Cooper S models arrived (thank you, John Cooper)the performance was stepped up. In fact my 1968 Woody Wagon (Morris Mini Traveller, with a 1275cc Cooper S engine and brakes)is almost as quick in autocross as my well-modded 2003 MCS was (it has now been replaced by a 2006 MCS). It was the original Mini Cooper S with a 1071cc engine that Paddy Hopkirk won the Monte Carlo Rallye in 1964, defeating many larger, more powerful cars.

    Even without the amenities that endear the modern MINI to so many, I have driven many miles to get to events. I once drove an Austin Cooper S 1275 from far West Texas to Princeton, NJ for a Mini Meet East.. it took 3 days, including driving through some 100+ degree weather to get there. And while I was at this Mini Meet East, there were over 100 other old Minis there from all over the eastern half of the US. There certainly is a old Mini demographic, and many of us have also bought a new Mini, because we see so many of the endearing qualities in the new vehicle. My garage holds three Mini/MINIs (67 Austin Cooper S, 68 Morris Mini Traveller, and 2006 MCS.)

    It is interesting to note also that when MINIUSA was preparing for the Detroit NAIAS in 2001, they deliberately sought out some of the owners of old Minis from Ohio (where there is still a good sized old mini demographic) to bring their cars to a December press conference to introduce the new MINI to the motoring journalists. We were invited to the press conference and asked to park our cars along the curb outside the restaurant where the press conference was held. After the meeting, one of the local TV motoring journalists asked to drive my car — you may have seen it on TV, it seems it still gets replays now and then. I then jumped into it and drove it 300 miles back home, through a pretty nasty ice/snow storm.

    So we have an old mini demographic. It is not a huge demographic and not all the old mini owners particularly care for the new version, just like a few of the NEW MINI owners think they do not like the 2007 version. Why? Because it is not the same thing they are used to. I like my old Minis very much, can talk for hours about them, have fixed and continue to fix many things on them, and I love the New MINI. Why? Because they are fun to drive and not everyone has one.

    Hopefully, BMW will keep the vehicle fun. It will not necessarily continue its same appearance like the classic mini did throughout its long production run, but that is not a bad idea. Those of us who still look forward to change, will most likely embrace it. I must be getting old, as I decided I was not going to risk whether I would like it or not, and ordered a 2006. So it will be a few years before I will decide whether the 2006 gets replaced or whether it has staked a permanent position in my garage with its brothers.

    Sorry to be long winded.


  • Wow, y’all are pretty verbose today. 🙂

    Here’s what I want from MINI: * continue to make a car with excellent handling qualities * make it of excellent quality * make it fun to drive * good customer service * keep the price reasonable

    Pretty simple. VW had some of those qualities with the Jetta (known, now, as the “Corolletta”).

  • Yegor H.

    Before I liked all the VW models. Now — maybe the R32 only. It’s strange, it seems to me that they’re competing with themselves. What’s the point of building another luxury brand when they have A3, A4, A6, A8 and all the S AUDIs?

    My MINI is not only a car for me and it’s fortunately not a moving appliance. It’s a different World.

    I think the current MINI’s size and design are perfect and have to remain as key fundamentals for all the future MINIs.

    1. I fear to see larger MINI with every new model.
    2. I fear to see BMW Z4 styling on MINIs
  • pete burke

    Please keep it simple! Rememeber Freude am Fahren!

  • My observations of modern automotive engineering and design is that modern cars tend to grow fat over the years. Look at the Nissan Altima. MINI-sized to begin with and now an overstuffed pork barrel.

    I understand the mentality. Start small and gradually start feeding followers of the car with more and more stuff so that a bigger sticker can be justified.

    With our MINIs we don’t need or want that (IMHO). BMW unfortunately just did that with the 3-series to the extent that they had to put a version of the 330 engine in the 325 instead of the 2.5 liter engine. So now the 3-series looks as big as the old 5-series.

    The MINI is now the perfect size. Let’s not grow it or it won’t be a MINI!

  • MrV

    Very interesting to see this comparison made.

    VW lost me as a customer the minute the abandoned their heritage. I am convinced that they did this INTENTIONALLY because they wanted to distance themselves from their “cheap” heritage. If you don’t believe me, go ask on any aircooled VW forum if they feel supported by VWAG or VW of America. VWOA has sued enthusiasts and actively tried to sabatoge the classic community. I know, becuase I was (well, I guess I still am since I continue to own a classic VW) part of that community. When VW started going after vendors that were making parts for the old aircooled cars that VW didn’t make anymore, it was obvious they didn’t want those cars on the road anymore.

    MINI is in a little bit different situation, since they are really a new company now. I don’t think they owe brand loyalty to the “old” Mini made under Austin or Rover. It’s nice that they do nod their head that way and actively acknowledge their roots though.

    So I think in a very real way, MINI must stay true to the ideals behind the current “New” MINIs. That means performance, fun, individuality. Not so much cost though. I think the base $17000 Cooper is the most fun you can have at that price, but lets not pay so much attention to the cost of the MINI.

    I agree that the worst thing MINI could do is try to woo a much larger audience. Don’t make it quieter, softer, more comfortable, more convenient, more appealing to the masses. Let the masses buy Corrollas. Let MINI stand for what it is…. always.

    == Jay

  • Shamus

    I think all manufacturers now are guilty of over-guessing the consumer base…trying too hard to come up with the “latest and greatest”. Mini itself over-retro’d the new MINI just to do something different. Sure, there’s probably a method to the madness, but if we can do a one-piece grille now, why come up with a two-piece to begin with? Why put big, outlined circular panels in the doors? Why make a twelve-foot car 2600 pounds?

    Basically, what I’m tring to say is this…think of your favorite car, the sleek beauty you dream about. Is there anything gimicky about it? Doubtfull. Most “classic” cars are classic because they have a timeless beauty to them that defied the generational crap that has long since burried their competitors. MINI needs to stay simple and consistent with their designs and overall message. Stay away from over-kitchy, overweight, over-pretentious cars. MINI’s are small, simple and humble…keep them that way, period.

  • Frank

    Shamus, while I agree with the basic premise of your post, I feel compelled to say that MINI has done an outstanding job in bringing the MINI to the 21st century.

    Keep in mind, the original Mini has manufactured, virtually unchanged, from 1959 until October 2000. Think about it… a very successful design that had not seen a major revamp in 41 years. How many new cars designed in the 1950’s can you buy brand new today?

    For BMW it was a daunting challenge to update this iconic classic automobile. The classic Mini while a beautiful, charming, great handling little car, lacks key safety features (In despite of offering front airbags in the mid-late 1990’s Rover Minis), ammenities, etc.

    Without me accusing you of being another “Jim in Ohio” for the MINI to be successful in the USA and elsewhere in the world, the car had to offer all the latest safety features. In a country like ours, where small cars (specially hatchbacks) carried a stigma of being death traps until the arrival of the MINI, the car would not have sold if the safety features would not have been there in the first place. Sure, 2,600 pounds is a lot for a Classic Mini (Whose weight probably was in the 1,600-1,800 ballpark) but I think it is about perfect for a modern day MINI. A VW Golf weighs close to 3,000 pounds and more.

    Sorry, this maybe contradictory to your “purist” views but after spending quality time in and around classic Minis, I can say with confidence that MINI did their homework with the current car and it shows.

  • Frank

    Volkswagen is a troubled car company. The $75,000+ Phaeton luxury sedan will be axed soon, making it one of the biggest flops in VWAG history. The Touareg SUV is suffering from teething quality problems, slows sales and dismal fuel economy. The “New Beetle” (aka Mark IV Golf) is the most obsolete car in VW showrooms right now. This car has not received any major facelifts or redesigns in ages. VW has been tight lipped about the future of the Beetle, but it has been rumored that VW doesn’t intend to update it and will rather let it die peacefully under the shadow of future product offerings that will take its place.

    The current Jetta is another dismal sales failure. A pig of a car that resembles more a Toyota Corolla. The MKIV Jetta was more akin of a BMW 3 series for the masses. Can you see what is wrong with the picture?

    The current Passat is a run of the mill car. Not a sales success either. The current MKIV Golf, while a decent car in most respects is long on the tooth and also obsolete. VW has delayed the introduction of the MKV Golf in America. The MKV Golf has received very mixed reviews since its dayview introduction in Europe last year.

    VW killed the resurrection of one of their signature products: The VW BUS (Van).

    VW needs to address the following problems:

    1) Quality and reliability. VWs rate lower than most Korean makes!

    2) Lousy dealer/service network

    3) Abandon their stupid and blind persuit of markets where they have no business being in (Phaeton). VW will always be “The car of the people”. VW will never be perceived as an alternative to a Mercedes, BMW, Lexus or even Audi.

    4) Address the quality problems and dismal resale values of their upscale Audi division. Audis have the worst resale values of any luxury car in the United States.

    5) bring back the “spark” that made the aircooled beetle, rabbit and golf cars desirable among consumer at their respective time periods.

    No amount of “smart” and “Cool” ads will pull VW away from the brink of the cliff.

  • Vanwall

    One thing people should keep in mind about the prodigious lifespan of the Mini, the Beetle, and the 2CV – they were over-engineered to begin with, but for the last 20 years or so, at the least, of their production – they were woefully behind the times as up-to-date engineered automobiles. The makers got complacent. Yes, they sold, but they were on the showroom floor because the makers had made the decision to spend money elsewhere rather than extensive progressive modernizing of the existing designs, especially early in the production cycle, and were essentialy boutique cars in the end.

    The original Mini probably made little or no money over the course of its life for the various marques that made it, something that is not BMW’s plan for the new MINI. Yes, part of that was management price-point errors, but even so, they all ended up close to banco and eventually were bought-out.

    VW found itself in one helluva hole in the seventies after changing direction away from the Beetle, until the FWD Golf and its derivitives, basically big Mini designs, saved their asses, and continued to do so for a long time as they were updated. Citroen’s 2CV rather agricultural factory was running on last gasps for many years, and was not an asset at all at the end. FWD cars that owed a lot to the Mini were their salvation as well, and are kept very modern.

    I don’t see how the new MINI can survive as a fly in amber like the old days – the market has changed, and the MINI must adapt as it goes along. I have faith in BMW’s management, they’ve done a fantastic engineering job with the MINI, and if they can get over the service issues and the demographic marketing tweaks without too much trouble, I see a long life for the brand. As long as they don’t get complacent. 😉

             Rob in Dago
  • Shamus


    My concerns remain that…my concerns, not yours or anyone elses for that matter. Re-read the question at the begining of the post and state your concerns…don’t argue with other people’s.

  • Frank

    Shamus, I was not arguing. Rather debating some of the points. That’s all.

  • snid
    I have yet to meet anyone who owned a Golf prior to owning a MINI.

    Raises hand.

  • BwanaYak

    Bring on the Traveller! I love my ’06 MCS, and I hope MINI continues to develop that platform while maintaining its simplicity and performance, but I need more room!

    I’m probably not your typical MINI owner, if there is such a thing. I put two kayaks and a bike on top of my MCS and it was beautiful sight. Two days worth of camping, kayaking and partying gear stuffed inside for me and my wife, and we still had more than enough power to leave everyone behind on the interstate as we accelerated up the mountainsides of West Virginia.

    The only thing I miss with my MCS is that I can only share the fun with one other person at a time (back seat passengers just don’t enjoy the experience for some reason). That’s why I am eagerly anticipating the Traveller, because it is everything I love about my MCS, with room to share the fun with my friends and/or family.

    I don’t understand the folks who cringe whenever the Traveller is mentioned. The Traveller is a separate product that appeals to a different group of people. It won’t replace the current MINI any more than the MCS or Cabrio did. But there are plenty of folks like me who are looking for the unique qualities of the MINI while needing a more (dare I utter the word?) utilitarian vehicle. If MINI needs to grow market share, they should do it by offering new models to appeal to new markets rather than trying to redesign the current models to please wider audiences. Keep the MINI Cooper true to its original concept and bring on the MINI Traveller!

    BTW, you’d be surprised how much driving an MCS and paddling a whitewater kayak have in common.


  • 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!

  • 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?

  • 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

  • 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.