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The Roadster and its sibling, the new MINI Coupe, were developed in tandem, but to appeal to very different segments of the population. And perhaps more importantly, they were developed to bring in buyers who might not have otherwise bought a MINI.
Speaking with AutoGuide at the Detroit Auto Show, McDowell explained how when research into the cars started several years back a trend became immediately obvious in respect to the open-top two-seat segment. “We were amazed at how much the market had contracted over the last 10 years,” he said. “In fact, it contracted almost as fast as the average price went up.”
A BMW Z3, which started at just $31,200 back in 2000, has now transformed into the Z4, with a sicker price of $48,650. The MINI roadster, however, will start at just above the $25,000 mark. Miata aside, “There has not been such an attractively priced roadster in a long, long time,” says McDowell.
Ignoring, rather obviously, the Mazda MX-5, McDowell does comment that there’s a certain equity to the Roadster being a European model. “I wouldn’t call MINI owners snobs,” he says quite frankly, instead stating that they simply appreciate the attention to detail and quality common to European vehicles. And yet the MINI offers another quality that pricey German machines can’t match.
True the Roadster is an oddity in the segment, as a front-driver rather than a rear-wheel drive machine, though McDowell has commented in the past that he doesn’t believe it matters what wheels power that car, so long as it’s fun to drive.
Along with the attractive $25,000 starting price, a MINI, says McDowell, is the sort of thing you can still drop your kid off at school in without looking like you’re showing off. “A MINI is always socially acceptable.”
Still, McDowell says the Roadster will draw people from many brands, particularly those top-down drivers that once existed and McDowell believes they still do. “With this car we will bring back dormant roadster drivers that have disappeared,” he declares.
The Roadster is the latest model to join the expanding MINI lineup, which now includes the Coupe, Countryman, Clubman, as well as the conventional MINI Cooper and its convertible counterpart.
GALLERY: 2012 MINI Roadster
With the addition of the all-new Coupe model, MINI now offers five unique models in its range, but that is only the start say U.S. brand CEO Jim McDowell. Speaking at the press introduction of the Coupe in Nashville last week McDowell indicated that while MINI, “will never be the world’s biggest automaker,” the model range being offered could expand to double its current size over the next 10 years.
With the traditional hard-top model, convertible and Clubman now the backbone of the lineup, last year MINI introduced the Countryman crossover which is expected to be a volume seller. The Coupe now adds a fifth model to the range.
As for what the next five models will be, two have already been confirmed. The first is the Roadster, a soft-top convertible version of the new Coupe, while the second is a production version of the Paceman concept – essentially a two-door Countryman. A final “known-model” is the Rocketman concept is certainly a possibility, although it’s not clear if that car will be offered in North America. As for what the remaining two models will be, McDowell wasn’t willing to comment.
GALLERY: 2012 MINI Coupe JCW
Despite rumors to the contrary, MINIs aren’t about to get any more or less mini. In a sit down interview with MINI USA boss Jim McDowell, at the Chicago Auto Show he dispelled rumors of a MINI-minor, as well as the possibility that the Countryman could get an even larger sibling.
“I don’t anticipate a third size or that we’ll ever have large MINIs,” he said, stating that future vehicles will be based on one of the two current MINI platforms, the R5X for the hard-top, convertible and Clubman and the R60 for the Countryman.
Later, McDowell commented that his remarks apply only for the U.S., perhaps hinting that a smaller MINI model could be in the cards for Europe.
MINI may, however, explore outside these two platforms when it comes to concept vehicles. “MINI will continue to push the limits with our concept studies, which are open for discussion and criticism, allowing us to incorporate some or all of the study elements into a future production vehicle,” said McDowell. “While the size of such concepts will no doubt vary, the MINI product family will remain true to its values of ensuring a ‘premium small car’ experience; and to do so in the U.S., we are likely to stay within the size range that is currently established.”
With plans to introduce a coupe and roadster model in the near future, MINI will then launch the Paceman, a two-door sportcross based on the Countryman’s architecture. Described by McDowell as a “very flexible platform,” MINI isn’t likely to stop with just two crossover variants either.
MINI USA boss Jim McDowell sat down with AutoGuide at the Chicago Auto Show to talk about what might just be the most carefree car brand out there, complete with its own lexicon that includes things like bootgating – that’s tailgating in a Countryman, if you must know.
Much of the conversation dealt with the upcoming Coupe and Roadster models, but first McDowell shared with us a revelation. The most cross-shopped car with the dynamic MINI Cooper is a vehicle that’s most certainly not known for being fun. In fact, it could be described as the exact opposite. That car is the Toyota Prius.
The reason, says McDowell, is due to the way both cars appeal to a certain buyer, with a distinctive look that says something about the driver.
Fuel economy is a top priority for these consumers, and McDowell is eager to point out the Cooper’s impressive 37 mpg highway rating. While hardly close to the 48-mpg rating of the Prius on the highway, that number is up one tick from 2010 thanks to some added efficiencies rolled-out in a mid-cycle update for this year. In the end, he says, those who really want to make that big environmental statement choose the Prius and those who value driving dynamics more highly pick the MINI.
On the topic of the Roadster, we asked McDowell to elaborate on comments he made the last time we spoke, about the car as a serious rival to the MX5. While FWD, McDowell touts the cars neutral characteristics and says it “will deliver such a fun driving experience that I wouldn’t shy away from a rear wheel drive comparison.”
He also expects to scoop up buyers due to the car’s functionality, and insists it will be a true MINI in the sense of delivering a solid amount of interior space in a very small package. He even went so far as to say there will be enough room for a couple to pack enough to drive across the country.
As for the Coupe, McDowell did say he expects it to be perceived as the brand’s top performance model, but stopped short of saying if it would out-perform the current John Cooper Works Cooper hatch.
As for the next-gen Cooper hatchback, McDowell did little to quell rumors of a dual-clutch automatic transmission being added to the lineup, indicating that as a brand highly-focused on both driving fun and fuel efficiency, any technology that can fulfill these requirements is under consideration.
David Loveall wins a trip to the MINI factory in England
Easily the biggest gimmick on the new MINI convertible models is the Openometer. The what? Well, the Openometer is a gauge just like all the other gauges you might find on a car’s dash, but on the MINI convertible models it measures how long the owner has driven with the top down.
To help promote the car and make the experience all the more enjoyable for owners, MINI launched the Open One Challenge where 400 drivers competed to record the most top-down miles. MINI has just announced the winner as David Loveall from Kansas City, Missouri. Over fifth months last year Loveall drove 555.55 hours top-down, visiting 48 states and driving such roads as Route 66.
As a reward for his adventures Loveall wins a trip to the MINI factory in Oxford, England.
“Owners like David are what make the MINI brand great,” said Jim McDowell, Vice President, MINI USA. “The fact that he won this contest with 128 hours more than the runner up is a testament to his enthusiasm for his MINI, and is a great representation of the community that surrounds the brand.”
And proving that it’s not the destination, but the journey, Loveall commented that, “I took on the challenge for the story I’d get to tell. My MINI Cooper Convertible is the first car I have ever bought, and the experiences I have had within the first year of owning it have been amazing.”
Photos of all the MINI Open One Challenge and rankings can be found at http://www.theopenone.com/home.
Official release after the jump:
Niche brand forecasting a double-digit percent growth in sales
MINI has recently rejuvenated its product lineup, launching second-generation versions of its most popular models, while introducing the Clubman. Sales have been good, despite the poor economy, and so MINI will be expanding its U.S. dealership network significantly in order to keep up with the demand that is expected to increase further still.
In total, MINI will increase its number of dealerships by 17 for a total of 100. Those numbers may not sound like much, but it is a significant 20 percent increase.
The new dealerships will go up over the next 18 months and are schedule to be built in areas that do not currently have a MINI dealer. The first new dealer to open will be MINI of Birmingham in Birmingham, Alabama.
“We are pleased to be in a position to dramatically increase our U.S. dealerships,” said MINI USA Vice President Jim McDowell at a meeting in New York. “I have often said that the world is becoming more MINI every day, and I believe that that sentiment is true, now more than ever, as consumer tastes shift decidedly to cars that offer tremendous value. Our cars are not only fuel efficient, and offer great value, but they also provide a fun and dynamic motoring experience and are packed with personality.”
McDowell also said that starting in 2011, MINI expects to begin posting a percentage sales growth in the double-digit range. Last year the brand moved 54,077 units.
And while the expansion of the MINI network to new regions will be a part of the growth, it will also be assisted by new models. MINI does plan to bring a crossover to market in the near future, and there have been persistent rumors of a small city car (possibly electric) and either a sportscar or ‘GTI’ model.
Follow the jump for a full list of all the new MINI retailer locations: