MINI sales are in a serious slump, but that doesn’t mean the brand is willing to cater to the lowest common denominator.
Over the past several years sales for the fun British brand have increased steadily with the addition of numerous new models. There have been successes (the Countryman) and failures (the Coupe and Roadster) and to keep MINI on an up-swing executives even considered a stripped-down model.
To keep up the momentum, MINI explored the idea of introducing a budget-focused model like they do in Europe. “We’ve considered it and we’ve decided against it,” said MINI product boss Pat McKenna.
Overseas the MINI One, as it’s known, sits below the Cooper and makes use of an even smaller displacement engine with reduced output. The previous generation MINI One used a 1.4-liter 4-cylinder co-developed by BMW and PSA Peugeot Citroen making just 75 hp.
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That option was not on the table says McKenna.
“While a MINI One could reach a lower pricepoint, the Cooper is developing the amount of power you expect from a premium small car,” he said.
Instead, the proposed car would have made use of the same base 1.6-liter Cooper engine but would have come decontended, featuring steel wheels, and the loss of features like ambient lighting and a multi-function steering wheel.
With the current base Cooper priced at $19,950 (before destination) and the previous generation model at $19,700 a “stripper” MINI could have more closely competed with its quirky-car rival, the Fiat 500, which starts at just $16,195.
In the end, however, the more affordable Cooper concept was axed and the brand’s dealership network was the deciding factor.
“Usually with a dealer you would always expect they would go for the lower price,” McKenna said, “but they really surprised us, they said ‘don’t do it.'” The dealer reaction, he said, was encouraging. “We’re lucky to have dealers that really get the brand.”
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Overall it was a strong indication that it’s not the sticker on the window that’s preventing anyone from buying a MINI. “They [dealers] don’t see the price sensitivity,” said McKenna.
As for the brand’s current sales slump, McKenna says it’s strictly tied to 2014 model year cars that haven’t arrived yet, while the 2013s are sold out. He’s confident the new hardtop will fill the sales void, while growth will be tied to an addition to the MINI lineup, which is due out later this year.
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