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Ask MINI USA Product Manager: The Answers

Last week we asked you to give us your questions to MINI USA Product manager Vinnie Kung. This week we have your answers. First a big thanks to Vinnie who’s been quite busy driving in the 24 Hours of Lemons recently. Oh and then there’s the little task of getting the entire refreshed MINI model line-up (not to mention the new Countryman) ready for the 2011 model year. So with all that said, let’s jump right in to it.

MotoringFile: Vinnie, great to see you again. Let’s get straight to the most important question. How was the 24 Hours of Lemons?

Vinnie: Oh, you mean the coolest race ever to happen? Yeah, things went great, thanks. I only hit the guardrail once with our D-Day themed Impala. We came in 32nd, but who cares when you’re having fun.

mini autox

MF: Ok, not that that’s out of the way, we’ve got a few questions about a little thing called the 2011 MINI refresh. For starters we’ve had a ton of people wanting to know about MINI Connected’s availability.

Vinnie: MINI Connected has been one of the most fascinating projects. But like any technology offer, there are challenges when it’s time to get things onto the streets. As of now, it looks like December production is when we will see it.

Engineering suspensions, engines and other cool mechanical technologies takes about 54 to 60 months to develop. When it comes to electronics, we have only a fraction of the time in order for it to be relevant in the market. I can design a control arm today and it will work for a real long time. But a new app? I have only a few months. I mean, would you want a Friendster App in 2011? I didn’t think so. So, sometimes extra time is all we need to finalize it. I’ve tried the latest version and it’s awesome.

2011 MINI

MF: Another 2011 options question. Is there a chance of the early JCW’s being able to get the black headlights in either the standard xenons or the Adaptive headlights. Secondly why in the world is MINI not allowing us to fit the more aggressive looking black headlight surrounding to the most aggressive MINI, the JCW?

Vinnie: We agree completely, but the guys in Oxford have other intentions for the JCW models. We keep asking for it but we keep getting a big, “No.”

MF: A couple of JCW questions regarding the 2011 model year. Why exactly was the JCW engine not upgraded along with the rest of the range?

Vinnie: The Cooper and Cooper S models were the focus of this update. A higher power version of the JCW has been rumored.

MF: Can we expect an updated version of the JCW Engine kit?

Vinnie: It should be out real soon. I spoke to Florian Kuenstner who heads up the accessories and it will have a similar power increase like we’ve had going from the N14 to the N18. Cool thing is that we’ll now be able to hear the popping sound on decel better.

MF: Ok onto a few random options questions that readers had. First up why is there no lumbar support on the cloth and leatherette seats?

Vinnie: It’s priced into the higher end seats. To make both Cloth and Leatherette free on the Sport seats, we can’t put lumbar support in it or we’d have to raise the price of the Sport seats from $250 to $500 on the Cooper or increase the price of the Cooper S’ base price to add it as standard. Right now, we think it is a fair tradeoff.

MF: Is there any specific reason why MINI eliminated the tilt/slide/memory (for getting into the back seat) from the passenger seats in the late 2010’s while keeping them on the drives side?

Vinnie: It was part of a cost-down measure. Sadly, this was one of few things that we fought against but the beancounters prevailed. Luckily, we did win on a few fronts such as getting the MINI logo back on our engines, budgeting for oil feed line heat shields on the turbo engines and even getting new timing chain tensioners.

MF: What about colors? Will we see brighter non-metallic color choices in future? We’ve had plenty of bright metallics but rarely something retro inspired that doesn’t have metal flakes.

Vinnie: We always work on new colors, either metallic or not. For instance, we took the time to develop Ice Blue for December production. But incredibly, we have a high demand for metallic colors so we will continue to meet that demand by offering metallics that are bright, such as my personal favorite, Spice Orange metallic.

MF: Ok onto the JCW. Let me state that this next question is a reader question and is not officially sanctioned by MotoringFile. Ok here we go… will the current R5X JCW cars ever be available with some type of automatic transmission?

P90055059

Vinnie: It is not planned for the current JCW cars. The goal has been to keep the JCW pure but we know eventually, there will be enough people that want it and we may offer it. But right now, we want to be able to keep the existing JCW lineup interesting so we are focusing on making it stand out more from an appearances perspective.

MF: Now onto something a little more our style. Based on talking with dealers and our various sources I get the feeling that the current JCW hasn’t sold quite as well as expected or hoped. True or not we’ve not been shy of our critic of the car. We love the way it goes and stops but it just doesn’t look or feel special enough to us. We know MINI is listening but can we expect future JCW products that could address these concerns?

Vinnie: Besides the updates we will see in 2011 (gray-faced gauges, specific color combos, etc.) we will continue to lobby for more differentiation on the JCW models. When you buy an M3, it’s almost a completely different car compared to a 335i. Same goes for the R32, Renault Alliance GTS, SAAB 900 SPG, SVO Mustang, etc. See what I am getting at? Even those were some pretty bad examples, the reality is that today, the JCW models appeal to the vast majority of new MINI customers that are new to the brand. Those of us who have been with MINI from the beginning prefer a truly differentiated car and for us, we need a GP replacement beyond what we saw with the WC50.

MF: Any chance for an AWD JCW in something like the current R56? The Golf R sure looks tempting sometimes.

Vinnie: Sadly, the current L3 chassis does not support an AWD system. While tempting, it would cost beaucoup bucks to get it to work in the market. The breakeven point would take either a huge price surcharge or an inordinate number of cars to be sold. Either way, due to plant and pricing limitations, success would be hard to come by.

2011 MINI Countryman Cooper S

MF: Let’s talk R60. There’s been a ton of excitement around the Countryman (more than we expected) but there have been a few questions that keep coming up. First is the rear seating. I know you’ve already answered this in our previous interview but has anything changed that could allow a three seat option in the US for the Countryman?

Vinnie: We have been lobbying for a five-seater for years. But to meet the changing US standards for side impact crash testing, we would have to heavily re-engineer the car and that would add price, something that none of our customers would want to hear about. We are still requesting a fully-compliant three-seater bench seat, however, and know that this is a huge factor in making people consider us for their next family vehicle.

MF: With the announcement of the WRC Countryman built by Prodrive rumors have popped up that there might be something road going that could be linked to the rally car. Is there anything you can shed on that?

Vinnie: I will have to respectfully decline commenting on that, due to the fact that it may incriminate at a future time.

MINI WRC Countryman

MF: Can we expect any WRC inspired surprises in our future as MINI fans?

Vinnie: It would make sense.

MF: What about standard JCW options such as the engine kit or the Aero-kit. Is there any thing you can tell us?

Vinnie: The biggest goal is to make the JCW Aero Kit available from the factory as it would have perfect fit, finish and reduced cost. Since the supplier is a small-volume manufacturer (different than the supplier for the factory aero kit), they need to get ramped up. Once that is done, I believe this will take off very well as an option. We’ll need to transition out of the current factory aero kit in the meantime, which is now only on the Cooper models.

MF: The Coupe remains the most anticipated product on MotoringFile. Any updates you can give us on the timing? We’ve reported late Summer of 2011.

Vinnie: When the school semester starts, it would be a good time to see a MINI dealer.

MF: What about a debut?

Vinnie: The cars will stay pure to the concepts we have presented so far. So, I wouldn’t expect a big debut at a show.

MF: The R58 Coupe seems like the perfect platform for a hardcore MINI. Would you agree?

Vinnie: With an aluminum roof, potential for great aerodynamics and lower weight, it has the inherent ability to perform better on a racetrack, all around the world … in a Challenging environment.

MF: How much do we expect headroom to be compromised in the R59?

Vinnie: Not sure yet. I hope it’s not much.

MF: Moving on to everyone’s favorite topic, warranty issues. What’s the story with the high pressure fuel pump and intake manifold/throttle body issues that we’ve read about throughout the MINI web? Has this been addressed with both pre-2011 and post 2011 MINIs?

Vinnie: I wish I had more expertise here, but in product planning, we look at how the MINI product line will look like in the year 2022. But our technical service guys keep me up to date every so often on the current product line. I do know that the N16 and N18 engines get new intake manifolds so that should eliminate any issues there. The JCW also has several updates due to the MY changeover. But anything more than that, and I’d just be making it up.

MF: Regarding the R57. Why is no one touch down (or up for that matter) on the MINI Convertible? Was this a safety thing? Programming?

Vinnie: This is 100% a safety issue. The lift motor’s current-sensing anti-trap feature is what allows us to have one-touch up on the R55 and R56. On the convertible, however, there are two reasons why the one-touch cannot work. For one, the rear windows have the ability to slide and then close into the front side windows and getting a finger pinched in there is tough for the vehicle to detect. There is no easy way to properly place a sensor on the rear glass and using current-sensing technology on the lift motor itself is not an accurate or safe way to offer one-touch. Also, if you had placed a contact sensor in the upper seal, this would only work with the top up and not with the top down. With so many variables and possible ways for somebody to get an extremity misplaced in one of the four windows, we decided to play it safe and let the window lift function be manually-controlled by the occupants.

MF: We know that there have been some decisions made to not bring the diesel to the US. Does that also rule out hybrid technology for MINI?

Vinnie: Diesel and Hybrid models have never been ruled out. The business case is what limits us. We all want it but at the end of the day, it has to make business sense and while there are many people out there just screaming for one (myself included), the spreadsheet says otherwise. US conformity is not cheap on the Diesel front. But it may be easier with other alternatives.

MF: What about the automatic Start/Stop system that has been used throughout the MINI range elsewhere in the world? We understand that the EPA doesn’t count it in the official MPG figures but does MINI plan to bring the system to the US in the near future?

Vinnie: It’s a classic compound business case problem. MSA (auto-start/stop) is only available on cars with manual trans. So right off the bat, we’re looking at only 40% of all MINI Coopers since there is no MSA for automatic transmission cars. This doubles the price immediately. After all the calculations are done in our finance group, we then look at how many cars would actually have it, and we predicted a modest 20% take rate. So, 20% of 40% of 28,000 cars means only 2,240 Cooper Hardtops would have it. Then you have to hope that these people really want it because who would pay $750 for an option that makes no difference on the EPA label. So in the end, we’d lose money on the option and in these times, I want to keep my job.

MF: Here’s another one that has been answered many times but we thought we’d give us another shot based on our readers interest. Has there been any movement in a UK delivery program (for those buying cars in the US) since we last talked?

Vinnie: Not as of yet. We just compounded this topic with the addition of the Countryman being built in Austria. We’d rather give our customers a true MINI experience from start to finish, but as of now, we don’t have a way to provide that.

MF: Ok last question. Does the Fiat 500 keep you up at night? If not, does anything?

Vinnie: The Fiat 500 will have VW Beetle-itis. People will run, then realize it’s a bucket of Fiat leftovers, and never buy one again. For Fiat, it may not be the best choice as their first car to bring the name back to the US. So, it does not keep me up at night.

Usually, I lose sleep worrying about roving bands of militant zombies coming in the middle of the night to steal my incomplete Vanilla Ice and Milli Vanilli cassette collection while they have their shoes on. I hate it when rude zombies leave footprints.

But as of now, my former adult magazine career is what still keeps me up all night.

And with that I gave Vinnie the secret MINI insider secret handshake and he was off into the night. If you didn’t see anything added “between the lines” above you may want to read again. Sometimes silence in a few of the answers was deafening.

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Written By: Gabe

  • http://facebook/wannall Jeff Wannall

    Great article! You covered a lot of topics that both us Motoring Avisors and MINI enthusiast are interested in. Cheers!

  • JonPD

    Interesting as usual, one of the best Ask Vinnie to day imo. Not sure how much new info in here though as a lot of it sounds familur from reading MF and listening to WWR.

    A big thank you to Vinnie for answering what he could. I would consider the move of Fiat working with dealerships to bring Fiat and Alfa to the US dealer network is something that should concern MINI as my friends in Europe have told me about the dent both brands have made in their MINI friends locally.

  • Jas

    Thanks Gabe, was a good read. Was the december answer about MINI Connect given before your story on Nov Builds? Would of liked to hear more about the personalization aspects of Mission Control, as that sounds interesting. Ill order when Im able to get it.

  • hfred

    What an excellent Q&A! Copious thanks to Vinnie and Gabe!

  • rkw

    A notable number is that automatic transmissions are now 60% of sales.

    Surprised to see such a blunt, public putdown of a competitor (Fiat) from a company exec. Vinnie could have played it safe and left it to the MINI cult to say the same things. My feeling is that as the price of MINI spirals upward, the Fiat 500 may make inroads for being a cool and trendy car (a factor that has helped MINI sales).

  • Jas

    I would if liked lumbar support standard vs HD radio standard or Sirius radio to be honest.

  • Bill in Iowa

    Gabe: Great Q&A here. Lots of interesting things coming from someone that should be in the know. What caught my interest was, and you know already that I am getting a 2011 JCW, is that he said that there were, or are, several updates in the MY011 JCW.

    Now, what does this mean? Beings as my order goes in on Friday, will this 2011 get these updates? And, What precisely are they? Again, thanks for the Q&A and hopefully we can have more of these in the near future.

  • Kage

    So, I’m looking forward to seeing the 2012 MINI Challenge events being run with R58 JCWs. Possibly with WRC inspired accessories.

    I want one. A lot. Subtle Vinnie, but maybe not subtle enough! ;-)

    It’s a shame, although completely understandable, to see how much influence the beancounters control the Product guys. Interesting to hear a little about how the business case process works though…

  • JonPD

    Would doubt they would choose the Speedster (R58) for the Challenge, would love to see them develop the R59 however. I doubt they would do that though because of the money that the current racers have tied up on their current cars.

    Its good to hear that MINI is considering a more powerful JCW (I do wonder though if it will be based on the R60 only). Its been a really long time since the JCW MINI has been considered anywhere close to being a hot hatch in Europe by most automotive press.

  • hardingsan
    MF: The R58 Coupe seems like the perfect platform for a hardcore MINI. Would you agree? Vinnie: With an aluminum roof, potential for great aerodynamics and lower weight, it has the inherent ability to perform better on a racetrack, all around the world … in a Challenging environment.
  • Rakey

    Great article as always Gabe.

    Looking forward to seeing some of those things that are slipped in there, very similar to things heard from UK brand manager too in the sense that they know what they need to do and bring to market to please those that keep challenging and love the JCW badge.

  • txdesign

    Pretty arrogant guy judging by the Fiat comment. Why not say “due to the car’s size and price point we don’t think the 500 competes with the Mini”. Slamming a competitior’s product is unprofessional and petty.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Pretty arrogant guy judging by the Fiat comment. Why not say “due to the car’s size and price point we don’t think the 500 competes with the Mini”.

    I love how people complain when execs toe the corporate line yet they also don’t like when they show a moment of obvious humor. And yes it was said as a joke during the interview.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andymadrid Andrew Madrid

    Wow that was a lot of answers to many questions and concerns I’ve had. Now that I know the facts I’m thinking that a mini may not be my next car.

  • B-

    I think his answer to the Fiat question was spot on. He answered the question honestly and then said was DOES keep him up at night.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1134606899 Dean Cory

    But you forgot to ask when we will be able to build a MINI Contryman on the MINIusa configurator!

    I want to build a real version of that artist concept of the Prodrive MINI Countryman WRC!

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    But you forgot to ask when we will be able to build a MINI Contryman on the MINIusa configurator!

    That’s because we already know. It’ll go live Thursday or Friday.

  • txdesign

    “I love how people complain when execs toe the corporate line yet they also don’t like when they show a moment of obvious humor. And yes it was said as a joke during the interview.”

    Guess I missed the joke part. Never mind.

  • rkw

    Gabe, I missed it as a joke as well, and I don’t think it’s obvious when reading the interview. Nuances get lost on translation to the Internet.

  • B-

    @ txdesign and rkw,

    You REALLY missed this due to nuances that got lost on translation to the internet?

    “Usually, I lose sleep worrying about roving bands of militant zombies coming in the middle of the night to steal my incomplete Vanilla Ice and Milli Vanilli cassette collection while they have their shoes on. I hate it when rude zombies leave footprints.”

  • JonPD

    Gabe just to clarify have the model numbers switched? Thought the R58 is the Speedster and the R59 Coupster?

  • http://www.facebook.com/stfreedman Steven Freedman

    Gabe, I was ready to place my JCW order this week for a 2011, but am now considering waiting. Did you get a feel for how serious the “rumor” of a higher power JCW engine was? Any clue on when it might be available if its real?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=529305914 Haemish Edgerton
    Ok here we go… will the current R5X JCW cars ever be available with some type of automatic transmission?

    Oh God please no.

    It is not planned for the current JCW cars. The goal has been to keep the JCW pure

    That’s right! Some things are sacred.

    but we know eventually, there will be enough people that want it and we may offer it.

    NOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooo…

    Sorry to say, but IMO, an automatic “factory” JCW would be the antithesis of what JCW is about (or at least what it used to be about.

    Mind you, they already did a good job diluting the brand with the base suspension as standard, why not kill the image of the marque entirely? (eye roll)

    The one exception I can think of – an SMG or DSG design. No “slushboxes” in factory JCWs!

  • rkw

    @ B-, The zombie comments were clearly not serious. The Fiat comments still don’t come across as a joke to me when I read it again.

    “The Fiat 500 will have VW Beetle-itis. People will run, then realize it’s a bucket of Fiat leftovers, and never buy one again. For Fiat, it may not be the best choice as their first car to bring the name back to the US.”

  • bee1000

    I didn’t read the Fiat comments as a joke either. Whether you appreciate the New Beetle or not, it’s really arrogant to imply that it wasn’t a success. I’m sure Fiat would be thrilled if the 500 were so “unsuccessful!” For that matter, how did New Beetle sales compare to MINI’s?

    Beyond that, if 60% of Coopers are sold with automatic transmissions, that tells me MINI has a lot to fear from a new “cute” European car entering the marketplace. America’s cute-Euro car market isn’t exactly huge to begin with.

  • Bill in Iowa

    Gabe: I’d like an answer to this too. What are the upgrades that Vinnie was referring about? Would it be wise to postpone our JCW orders for a month or so to take advantage of the improvements in the JCW?

  • hemisedan

    Gabe: This is the sentence that got to my attention. Any answers to this, and if there are signicant changes, WHEN?

  • hemisedan

    Gabe: This is the question that I was referring to in the above question.

    (The JCW also has several updates due to the MY changeover.0

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Gabe, I was ready to place my JCW order this week for a 2011, but am now considering waiting. Did you get a feel for how serious the “rumor” of a higher power JCW engine was? Any clue on when it might be available if its real?

    There will always new cars with more features in the years ahead. The JCW will likely be upgraded at some point but if you’re worried about something earth shattering coming in the next 6-8 months I wouldn’t sweat it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stfreedman Steven Freedman

    Perfect. Thanks Gabe!

  • Blackballed

    Thanks for for the copious number of JCW related questions. That seems to be the hot button topic. It seemed like he kept putting worms on the hook but never put the line in the water for us to bite. More power? WHEN???

  • http://www.facebook.com/andymadrid Andrew Madrid

    Steve, imo, make you sure you get the sport suspension; it is a good deal. My Jcw has the standard bouncing suspension and it is going to kill me one of these days.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stfreedman Steven Freedman

    Thanks Andrew, I’m actually deciding between the sport suspension and the JCW. My fears are two: a) ride quality since it will be my daily driver, and b) ground clearance. With our Minnesota winters, I’ll be putting a set of snows on about half the year, but driving in 3-6 inches of snow is not unusual around here. Lowering the ground clearance any with the JCW suspension or JCW aero kit worries me!

  • hemisedan

    Steve: I have a 2011 on order and I was facing the same dilema as you. I live in Iowa, same kind of snow, maybe not as much, but don’t tell me that about last year. Anyway, I’m waiting until Spring and will be putting my H&R Sport springs on the stock suspension. If I need more, I’ll put some Koni Struts/shocks on it, but from what I feel when riding in a friends 2009 JCW, it isn’t all that spongy as many say. And, with the new H&R springs that I will put on, that should take care of that too. That ground clearance is why I won’t go with the JCW Aero as it definately looks lower. Anyway, I just thought I’d let you know that you aren’t the only one on the fence with suspension questions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=529305914 Haemish Edgerton

    Steven and Hemi:

    It’s not an exact comparison, but I have the JCW suspension on my (1st Gen) R53, and I have found that it really hits the “sweet spot” for handling and ride quality in a daily driver. As for the ground clearance, it did lower the car a little bit… it was noticeable but not ridiculous. The MINI does fine when “plowing” a little bit though – with the crazy “Snowmageddons” (2 of them) that we had here in the DC area last winter, I was still able to get around just fine the day after the storm, including on unplowed streets. I used proper snow tires, of course – so that helped a lot.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    We have a multi part review of the jcw suspension you’ll likely want to read. It’s on the right side of the page under reviews.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stfreedman Steven Freedman

    Gabe, I did check those out but what I haven’t found is any reviews or solid info on the Sport suspension. Yes, I know its a middle of the road compromise, but how good is it compared to the stock suspension? How bad is it compared to the JCW suspension? That would be a hugely helpful bit of information. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/stfreedman Steven Freedman

    Haemish, thanks for the info from another snowbound driver!

  • Sean K

    When will MINIUSA have the MINI Connected emulator online so we can testdrive the new interface from our laptops?


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