Time flies doesn’t it? 15 years ago today I drove to the local MINI dealer (which opened without ceremony an hour before) and test drove a car that would go on to change my life.

Despite sales being down over the last year MINI USA has seen tremendous success over the past 15 years. What many dismissed as a niche car for a non-existant audience has more than flourished on American soil. But MINI did more than just bring back a classic. It did more than sell a fun, fast, cute little car. MINI defined an entirely new market segment in the US: The Premium Small Car. At the time, you could buy small, you could buy nice, you could buy fun, but you couldn’t buy all three.

It’s worth remembering that the MINI didn’t debut in the height of a fuel crunch or a wave of change in the automotive landscape. It arrived in boring old 2002. Jim Mcdowell, Vice President of MINI USA summarizes that climate this way:

“MINI launched in the U.S. during the time when gas was cheap and large trucks and SUVs ruled the road. Many thought the brand would be a one-hit wonder, and we are extremely proud that we were able to surprise some the toughest critics, and at times, even ourselves.”

However, if there’s one thing that truly makes MINI unique, it’s the fans. It’s you — the person reading this. It’s those of us who run MotoringFile posting stories and review every day. It’s the passion that pushed DB and Todd to start WhiteRoofRadio, which has grown tremendously over the years. It’s events like MINI’s on the Dragon, AMVIV and a dozen others all started by fans. Even MINI gets involved with big events like MINI Takes the States. Where other car companies thrive simply on sheer numbers of faceless customers, MINI thrives because of its fans. It’s this enthusiast community, chock full of diversity. Different backgrounds. Different opinions. Different styles — each as unique as their MINI. While not every MINI owner is an enthusiast, no community of enthusiasts makes a bigger difference to the car brand they love than this community does to MINI. We’re not just owners, not just fans, we’re ambassadors. Best of all, nobody knows that better than the MINI USA crew in New Jersey.

So happy birthday, MINI USA. Blow out your candles. Have some cake for us. We’ll see you at the next MTTS.