The internet is abuzz with talk from MINI board member Harald Kreuger’s comments to Inside Line regarding the continued expansion of the MINI lineup. We reported back in January that MINI plans to grow the MINI family to as many as ten members, and Kreuger’s latest comments appear to back that up futher. The story from Inside Line, however, adds new fuel to the fires of speculation.
A smaller MINI
First up, there’s renewed talk of a Rocketman-sized MINI making its way to production. While this wouldn’t be the Rocketman itself, rumor is that something in the 3 meter size range would be the aspiration. While the Rocketman concept platform would be cost-prohibitive for MINI to undertake alone, we reported back in June on BMW’s formal joint venture with Toyota. Once just a rumor, the June announcement outlined several technology sharing initiatives and a “future sports vehicle” platform sharing arrangement. Speculations include the possibility that this platform sharing could be between a future generation iQ and a Rocketman-esque, smaller MINI. However, based on Inside Line‘s reporting, that “future sports vehicle” platform could have applications beyond a smaller hardtop MINI alone.
Some sort of “sports car”
Little is known about what is being referred to here with the term “sports car” other than its philosophical alignment to the original Mazda MX-5 Miata (which was itself based on classic British roadsters from MG and Triumph). Inside Line seems to think the important aspects of that formula “mean small, affordable and a blast to drive.” Does small mean smaller? As in, smaller than the current MINI Roadster? Is MINI teasing the idea of an entry-level, Roadster-like car based on the Rocketman-sized platform? Rumors that BMW might revive the Triumph brand with a small 2-seat convertible have been circulating since 2006, but popped up again with renewed vigor back in March. Could those marque plans have been scrapped in favor of further expanding the MINI brand with the car originally intended for a Triumph reboot? Consider our interest aroused. We’re not, however, going to hold our breath for “entry-level” pricing on any MINI product in the US. That’s a race to the bottom we don’t think MINI really wants to compete in here.
A MINI SUV
Details are extremely thin on what is meant by a “MINI SUV”, so let’s not panic just yet. In fact, other news sources are still using the term “crossover” to describe this vehicle. Given both the success and continued expansion of the Countryman, when the term “SUV” gets used, what exactly are we talking about here? Is it a truly larger vehicle than the R60? Or are we looking at something more off-road focused rising out of that same platform? Anybody remember the Beachcomber? This was our prediction back in January and for now, we’re sticking with it as this “SUV” they’re talking about. Given that we already know MINI has worked on internal Beachcomber concepts in both five door, and Paceman-like three door variants (nicknamed the Canyon inside MINI), it seems likely that any growth on the part of the Countryman would be up, not out. That said, an extended wheel-base Countryman (a Countryman Clubman?) also seems plausible, but that is purely a guess on my part.
A MINI Sedan
In our recent comprehensive piece about the upcoming F56, we spent quite a bit of time talking about the 5-door variant, the F55. Basically to the hardtop MINI hatch what the four door Golf is to VW. The F55 will take the standard MINI platform and inject it with a healthy dose of practicality without growing its sporting footprint. Is the “sedan” Inside Line is talking about actually the F55, or are we talking about something more fast-backed like a traditional sedan? What comes to mind is the image of a four door MINI with a back end more akin to the Coupe or Roadster — with a traditional boot lid. But like the idea of a stretched Countryman, that’s purely conjecture on my part. Most likely of all is what we reported on back in January:
Code-named “Spacebox” and known as the Traveller (or even the MINI Activity Tourer) the car will be based on the front wheel drive BMW Compactive Sport Tourer or ‘FAST’. The idea (for both but especially the Traveller) is all about increasing practicality and flexibility for a customer who would have had to to move to another brand because they’ve simply run out of space. Both but especially the Traveller will be the most utility oriented of all of BMW or MINI’s upcoming products based off of the UKL1 platform.
What’s unclear is just where each of these rumors and internal MINI concepts overlap. Is this three cars or just one? Either way, we know MINI is working on four and/or five door variants of the traditional MINI Hatch — the flagship platform for MINI.
Expansion means profitability
We’re as tired of repeating it as many of you are of reading it, but the reality is that in order for MINI to be sustainably profitable, the brand and the lineup has to grow. The hardtop hatch will always be the center of that, as will the MINI’s British heritage. In fact, Inside Line is reporting that BMW is yet again considering the presence of a MINI design center in the UK — a facility to anchor the brand’s character right in the heart of its cultural heritage. A London BMW design center was shelved earlier this year, but perhaps that was just a postponement. Regardless, the changes we’re seeing in both platform (the F56) and continued model variations are essential to MINI’s long term growth and financial health.
While not every MINI fan is going to love every new model (where my R60 haters at?), we still think the correct perspective on a ten car MINI lineup is one that ultimately favors driving enthusiasts. For a company as small as MINI, the catch 22 of profitability comes hand-in-hand with market compromise. But in the end, the enthusiasts actually have the most to gain. The criticisms of bloat and un-sporting character that one might level against the Countryman certainly don’t apply to MINI’s most rarified models like the Coupe or the JCW GP. Truth is, though, we wouldn’t have one without the other. MINI wouldn’t be able to offer low volume, performance oriented cars like the Coupe without the highly profitable, albeit less aspirational Countryman. It works the other way ’round as well. Without the sporting character and performance cheek of the Hatch, the Coupe and the Roadster (not to forget the JCW GP), there’d be little MINI family appeal for a car like the Paceman — a car that aspires to even more performance than it will likely deliver.
In that sense, MINI is expanding into a more complicated organism. Those interdependencies and new models are ultimately going to strengthen the MINI bottom line, and I believe, strengthen the MINI brand.