Opinion: Drive Small or (They Will) Die

Small cars are dying in the United States. This week Ford announced that it will no longer be selling traditional sedans in North America and will reduce its car offerings to just two: the Mustang and a high-riding (crossover-like) Focus derivative. For industry watchers this isn’t a surprise. Truck, SUVs and Crossovers have dominated US vehicle sales for the past 5-7 years thanks to low fuel prices and shifting consumer buying habits. Simply put if we don’t buy small cars, automakers will stop making them. The big question then is: what does this mean for MINI?

R50 marketing advertising

16 years after being introduced to the US, MINI is fighting an uphill battle here. When first introduced, MINI was marketed as the anti-SUV. It was everything that most US cars weren’t. Well designed, moderately priced with surprisingly great performance. It was a smash hit for a few reasons. The brand’s timing was impeccable with fuel prices rising and a political climate that was ready to challenging the status quo. MINI was also successful because it’s ambitions were so tame. BMW expected to move 20,000 MINIs in a good year in the US. MINI USA has crushed those numbers from the start selling almost 70,000 cars in 2012 and 2013. Even last year’s disappointing numbers (47,105) would have looked impossible in 2001.

The good news is that the current MINI line-up is the best performing and built (yes we’re talking quality) group of cars we’ve ever seen from the brand. Frankly if you’re on MotoringFile, considering a new small car and NOT looking at a MINI you’re missing something.

But we’re not here to wax poetically about the current MINIs (read the reviews section of for that). They’re great and you should really consider a test drive if you haven’t been behind the wheel of one recently. But for the love of God we implore you the MINI enthusiast to buy something, anything small, if you’re in the market. Because small cars are dying and quick and painful death at the hands of a parasite that is the modern crossover. They’re an invasive species and they’re killing all the things we love in the automotive world.

Note: We don’t consider the Countryman one of these since it’s classified as a compact in the US. Feel free to debate though!

  • Nick Dawson

    Car makers are in the business of making cars that people want to buy, and to remain in business car makers have to make a profit, and profit is the lifeblood of any company.

    BTW the forthcoming 2020 Ford Focus Active looks good. If only MINI had planned a Crossover based on the X2 instead of the Clubman. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/89523f7ac1089401b2f704d166053025dff8f4309dcb258688db8bd67527e5ba.jpg

    • Sam Curtis III

      I agree with your analogy, but the SUV / CUV craze will only last so long. Once the trend has died, Ford could be pushed into a corner and have nothing else in their portfolio to off to their potential customers. The next big trend is station wagons! History always repeats itself!

      • Wagons FTW!

      • Nick Dawson

        Even if Station Wagons do make a comeback, that still wouldn’t help MINI USA, or any other small car maker.

        • There are plenty who consider the Clubman to be a wagon in the US.

        • Nick Dawson

          The F54 Clubman is most certainly a Wagon, but it is a poor seller in the US – sales down 50.19% YTD at end of March 2018. It will be interesting to see if that situation is still the same when MINI USA YTD sales are published later today.

        • That’s my point 🙂

          I’ve owned three BMW wagons over the years and two Clubman. On paper they are the ideal car in many ways. Sad that the US market has been so scarred from the wagons of 30-40 years ago that it can’t see that.

          Speaking of wagons I’ll be taking a 2000 road trip in the latest BMW 6GT this week. BMW doesn’t consider it a wagon but in many ways it’s simply a modern interpretation of that form.

        • Nick Dawson

          I completely agree, and I hope that in the fourth generation MINI range – the all electric MINI – the MINI Metro Cruiser, described by Georg Kacher as the “Clubman reinvented”, will be more of a Shooting Brake 🙂

        • Sebastian Tombs

          How was the market “scarred” by the wagons of 30-40 years ago? I have always found them to be far more interesting than mini-vans or crossovers.

        • Of course they are – I’ve owned a handful of wagons because I believe the same thing. The American market’s disdain for the wagon is due to a number of factors – one of them is the horrible wagons that the Big 3 made for years.

        • Sebastian Tombs

          I hear you. Though, I do have a soft spot for those old Country Squires from the 60’s to early 70s

        • David Galinat

          I know I do. 🙂

    • darex

      The X2 is based on the Countryman, if anything. They’re almost exactly the same size, and needless to say, they share everything else, too.

      What are you even trying to say? Timewarp, and reverse the flow of history? LOL

      • Nick Dawson

        I am sorry that you are having difficulty understanding what I was trying to say – I shall do my best to help you.

        In my post, you will note that I was using the past tense, and therefore speaking wistfully. In other words, if only BMW had previously given MINI the green light to build a Sportback CUV – global sales of which are booming – rather than to the Clubman Wagon, MINI USA sales would I suspect have been considerably higher. Just my opinion.

        BTW, I am fully aware that the Countryman and X2 share the same UKL2 Platform, as does the Clubman, the X1, the 2-series 5-seat Active Tourer, the 2-Series 7-seat Gran Tourer and – for China only – the 1-series Sedan and the long wheelbase X1. The Clubman and the 1-series Sedan differ in that they both have a lower front bulkhead.

      • Eric

        “Almost” exactly as you say… not really : the X2 weighs way more, the additional performance of the Countryman (with identical motors) is sensible

        • darex

          Wrong! MINI Countryman JCW All4 (which is the most direct competitor, with same engine) and X2 both weigh ~3600 lbs. LWH are also practically identical as well.

          Not sure where you’re getting your information, but it’s wrong.

        • Same weight but the F60 is more compact. Also note there’s a real difference in feel for these day two on the track or in aggressive driving based on testing at MotoringFile. They’re tuned differently in terms of dynamics.

  • anchoright

    I think it boils down to the fact that the average person does not like to drive. Few people like to shift through the gears, or know how. Few people know how to take corners, how to overtake safely, know what is their 360 surroundings at all times, see a motorcycle coming half a mile away, know how to carve up peak hour traffic without making everyone angry, can parallel park with one pass… few people actually know how to drive, and few people truly like to drive. This brings the next logical step, that if you don’t like to drive, you want your car to feel like a living room, transporting you with comfort. If you hate being on the road, then bring your living room with you. Also, a bigger vehicle sees over everyone else so it gives the advantage, and when everyone else gets bigger, you need to go bigger.

    • Mike and Moira Babb

      So true. Same in the UK where you only have to look at the quality of driving to know people aren’t concentrating or engaged when on the road.

      We still champion small cars with firmer suspension (we have small twisty roads and small car parking spaces, so it makes sense) but the trend is certainly upwards in size.

      The limitations of road size, parking bay sizes and costly fuel will always mean there’s a place for small cars here fortunately. Without those limitations in the US it looks like you’ll be going back to the 50’s.

      • Nick Dawson

        The truly excellent Ford Fiesta has been the UK’s best selling car for many years, and Autocar rated the ST version “a better driver’s car than the Cooper S”. The MINI Hatch (Hardtop) is currently the UK’s eighth best seller.

        FoMoCo, despite its economies of scale, can’t make money out of selling the Fiesta in the US, and the VW Group has for many years consistently been unable to make a business case for marketing the equally excellent Polo in the US. The bottom line here is – “America has never liked small cars”.

  • donburnside

    I guess now would be a bad time to mention that you can get a SCREAMIN’ deal on a Fiesta or Focus right now, right?

    • glangford

      Fiesta ST would be awesome. There are still plenty of small cars around. It just happens that on US World News and Reports top list, Ford only has one in the top 20, and it’s at 18. Honda Civic, VW GTI and Golf, Mazda 3, offerings from Kia (all of which score higher than Mini), Subaru Impreza (and WRX). There is still a lot out there. Ford’s decision says less about the Market and more about there inability to build something in that class the market cares about.

      • darex

        USNews is the go-to for authoritative Auto opinion nowadays? ????