There have been plenty of conversations on MF and elsewhere recently around MINIUSA’s sales seemingly stagnating. And for 2016 the number are more than stagnate. They’re dropping at an alarming rate. MINI USA’s year over year sales have dropped a staggering 18.3% for 2016. Is it product? It is cheap gas? Is it pricing?
Lets start with the latter. The reality is that there hasn’t been a dramatic price hike since the new MINI was introduced in 2003 in the US. The current base Cooper retails (fairly well equipped) for just over 20k. That’s risen a little over $3k in 15 years. Given the amount of technology, safety and performance now standard it seems clear that MINI held the line on pricing fairly well without cheapening the product (like VW). As much as we hear about pricing complaints, we just don’t see the math behind it.
What about the product? The current range is relatively new (sans the Clubman) and has received plenty of praise from the automotive press. In our estimation at MF there’s no issue with the production in relation to what’s on the market. That doesn’t mean things are perfect. The specialness of the first generation new MINI has been hard to replicate in an era of draconian efficiency and safety standards. We love the F56 generation and fully believe it’s the best MINI line-up ever. But put plainly it’s less MINI than it was in 2003. Is that something that most people notice or just the hardcore fans? That’s the money question in our minds.
What about gas prices? In our estimation that’s actually the key factor here. Looking at Matt’s Index (yes MF writer Matt Richter has achieved some impressive data status these days) it’s obvious that similar sized and priced competitors are having a rough go in 2016. So much so that some carmakers are abandoning small cars. Chrysler is killing its Dart and 200 models. Scion is dead. Mazda has killed the Mazda 2 in the US. Mitsubishi is dead. And the Ford Fiesta and Chevy Sonic have been such sales disappointments that could jeopardize their future in the US. The North American market hasn’t been kind to small cars over the past few years and 2016 seems to be even worse.
What can MINI do? The brand just recorded it’s best month ever worldwide with a total of 39,061 units were delivered to customers worldwide, an increase of 6.6% compared with the same month last year. So the easy answer is just hang on. Gas prices will eventually go back up and the tide will eventually turn to smaller more sensible (and interesting) cars. But part of us hopes that this also serves as reason for MINI to double down on making exceptional products. This is an incredibly difficult segment to sell in. And while we believe the current generation MINI range is mostly excellent, that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas for improvement. With the rumored power bump, dual clutch transmission and revised front and rear styling coming soon, it would appear MINI is already preparing a shot in the arm.
And stay tuned for details on what’s ahead in 2017 and 2018.