This comes via “dco43054” at MINI2 and Jeff Green at Bloomberg News:

Detroit, May 7 — Bayerische Motoren Werke AG's Mini brand, the fourth-worst performer in the 2003 quality survey by J.D. Power & Associates, is adding heavier oil to its shock absorbers to create a smoother ride and reprogramming the engines to prevent stalling in an effort to address customer complaints.

The company, which sold 24,590 Minis in the U.S. last year, also is sending special coffee mugs to customers after owners complained that many cups won't fit in holders built into the car, said Jack Pitney, general manager for the Mini brand in the U.S.

The Mini was fourth worst among 37 vehicle brands ranked by the number of problems in the first three months of ownership, according to a survey by J.D. Power. The score of 166 problems per 100 cars was higher than the industry average of 133 and meant the BMW group score slipped to 124 from 116 last year.

“We're not happy with the results but we're taking action,'' Pitney said in an interview at the Automotive Press Association lunch in Detroit.

The top complaint among consumers was about the Mini's cup holder, followed by complaints that the engine hesitates or stalls, according to J.D. Power. Owners also complained about a noisy fan motor, wind noise and an uncomfortable ride, the survey found. The 17-year-old survey is watched by automakers because it can influence consumer purchases.

Pitney said he expects to sell 25,000 to 30,000 Minis in the U.S. this year. BMW, known for luxury vehicles, starts Mini prices at $16,975 and wants the cars to attract buyers who haven't previously bought the automaker's models. About 86 percent of Mini buyers hadn't purchased a BMW before, Pitney said. The Mini Cooper is intended to be the first of several models for the brand.

BMW, which has sold 11,304 Mini cars through April, plans to limit sales to about same as in 2002 to keep demand high, Pitney said. The short supply contributes to an Automobile Lease Guide estimate that 2002 Minis will retain about 61 percent of their value after three years, the
highest rate for any U.S. vehicle from the model year.

The original Mini debuted in 1959 in the U.K. and was the inspiration for the naming of the miniskirt, according to BMW. The tiny car was fashionable in the U.K. during the 1960s, attracting buyers such as the Beatles' Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the automaker said. About 10,000 Minis were sold in the U.S. from 1960 until 1967.

I'm really not sure what to make of this. Does anyone from MIINUSA want to alleviate my concerns about the MINI going soft due to these changes? It goes without saying that one of the biggest reasons there is such a cult following for this car is the unbelievable level of performance at such a low price. If you erode that performance you'll loose more than just a portion of your cult following – you lose what made the car special in the first place.