Opinion: How Could MINI Innovate?

In short, we have no idea. There are many things that we would like to see MINI do better, but none of those things are truly innovative and should be the standard for any premium brand anyway. You are probably wondering where we think MINI should do better, so here is a quick list: sales experience, service experience, product quality, and marketing. Because of the types of products MINI sells (i.e. combustion engines) and because of the way BMW North America, and by extension MINI USA, is currently set-up (i.e. dealer network), it is actually difficult to truly innovate in most of the areas mentioned above. So what else is there?

When we talk about innovation, it doesn’t have to do with incremental progress that makes the current state of a product or service marginally better. In this case, we want to touch on disruptive innovation and we believe this topic is relevant for a number of reasons.

MINI was reborn about 13 years ago and during that time we’ve probably seen one real innovation coming from them. The brand managed to create a niche market focused on premium small cars. While it didn’t really disrupt the automotive space, it established MINI as a distinctive brand and paved the way for other manufacturers. Many have tried to copy BMW’s recipe, but with limited success. Aside from that, we haven’t seen real magic coming out of MINI recently. Car companies are also enjoying record sales across the globe. They could probably use this momentum to place audacious bets, and potentially disrupt themselves. Finally, there are many rumors about a certain fruit company entering the space in the next decade. And based on their track-record, I wouldn’t hold still if I were a luxury car brand. Ask any watch-maker how they feel at the moment.

Reflecting on the history of the automotive industry, there hasn’t been disruptive innovation since the Toyota Production System. Some observers will point out to the creativity of Tesla, and rightly so, but Elon Musk’s company has yet to rock the boat. Others will point out to Uber, rightly so again, but a mix of human capital, regulations, and technology limitations are holding them back for now. Given all that, how can an incumbent such as MINI disrupt the automotive market, and perhaps at a greater scale, transportation?

Since we are not all-knowledgeable, we would like to ask our smart readers what their opinion on the matter is. However, before you jump to the comments section, you might want to keep in mind the following factors from the excellent Asymco’s Horace Dediu:

  • Roads have not changed in decades and cars obviously rely on them to go anywhere
  • Disruption in the automotive space mostly came from production systems
  • There’s never been disruptive innovation based on drivetrains
  • Range and congestion are the two ultimate problems that needs solving