As some long time MotoringFile readers may know MINI's next generation car (the R56) is due to be introduced in the next 2-3 years. There have been rumors in the past that this next MINI will be a car designed to cost BMW less and in turn make more money as opposed to the current car which by most accounts is over engineered considering the price range it occupies. In fact we covered some of this very speculation over a year ago. Of course the extent of the cost savings is unknown and it may simply be components that we can't see or feel that have no bearing on overall quality of the car. We probably won't know details until the cars make their way out of the plant and into our hands.
The Irish Examiner has some further info about the next generation car in a recent article. While the article is vague in nature, what it hints at is interesting. Here's an excerpt:
German car giant BMW is planning to replace its successful British-built Mini with a new, cheaper-to-make model.
The company, which makes the Mini at Cowley near Oxford, has drawn up plans for a version of the car with a less ambitious design, according to a report.
The Munich-based car maker has decided the high specification of the Mini and its relatively low market price has limited its profitability, the report in the Sunday Times said.
The new model, which will not be available for at least three to four years, will have cheaper components and will be offered with a wider range of body types including a five-door estate.
BMW’s Mini, based on Austin’s original classic, has had significant success since the company launched it just under three years ago.
The company sold 176,000 of the cars last year 22% up on 2002 and expects to sell about 180,000 this year. The Mini is sold in 73 countries, with prices ranging from just over $10,000 ($14,982) to more than $14,000 ($20,974).
BMW declined to give profit figures for the Mini, but a spokeswoman said the company expected the current range to make a ‘positive contribution to the group’s bottom line’.
She confirmed that the group plans to build a new range, which is likely to be available in different styles.
There may be a limited amount of extra investment at Cowley, which employs 4,500, to handle extra volumes, she said.
But the spokeswoman said it was too early to give further details on the new car, adding: ‘We’re still some years away from going into production.’
I think BMW is walking down a risky path if it is indeed planning to use cheaper materials and components for the next MINI. When you talk about what sets the MINI apart from other small sports cars the conversation inevitably leads to the amazing chassis. Sure the current MINI shouldn't have been made so well. Sure it's over engineered for even a $30,000 car. But it's resulted in a rare situation in automobiles and marketing where something not only lives up to it's branding and enthusiast hype – but surpasses it. BMW needs to only look at the current VW Beetle to see what happens when a high-end small car with no real engineering prowess starts to age… sales fall flat.
Of course many of us have heard this rumor before. BMW basically gave up on this generation of the MINI in terms of making a profit. They figured a car so spectacular would help build a brand and a loyal following. They were 100% correct with that assumption. It's one thing to cheapen the car by component costs but to mess with the wonderful chassis or the z-link rear suspension BMW/MINI could potentially lose more than a predetermined percent of the customers. They could lose the respect of many core auto enthusiasts … and that will be hard to gain back.