BMW is not saying exactly how it will do it, but the German automaker will begin selling the British-built Mini in the United States next year.
The minicar, measuring 'four-feet-by-four-feet-by-ten,' in the words of BMW AG sales executive Henrich Heitmann, will go on sale in fall 2001.
BMW has long hinted at the possibility of marketing the little British icon in North America - more as a niche curiosity than an expected volume seller. But the 40-year-old Mini was technologically out of date for the U.S. market.
'It has never been possible to sell it here until the all-new version was created,' said Heitmann, board member in charge of world sales. 'The new model is not merely a redesign - it is completely changed from the old version.'
Speaking to reporters at the Detroit auto show last week, Heitmann compared the Mini to Ford's Model T. He noted that more than 5 million have been sold over the past four decades.
While U.S. sales of the little car are certain to be modest, the export effort can't hurt its maker, the Rover Group. BMW has struggled to stem Rover's financial losses since taking over the British producer in 1994.
BMW officials remain vague about a U.S. sales plan for the Mini. But executives hint at a scenario in which the Mini will constitute a new brand to be shared between retailers of BMW of North America Inc. and Rover's Land Rover North America Inc.
'You would not go into a Land Rover center, where big sport-utilities are displayed sitting up on rocks outside the store, to see a Mini. But you might walk around the corner to a separate area and find one,' said Helmut Panke, BMW board member.
'Or similarly with a BMW dealership. (The Mini) would not be sold next to the 5 series. But you might find it in a separate location.'
Panke said he envisioned the car being sold at 'BMW Group centers.'
But Heitmann emphasized that it will be marketed as a 'Mini' - not as a Rover and not as a BMW.
'We think the new mini is especially suited for the U.S. urban environment,' Heitmann said. 'It offers a wonderful traffic advantage and easier parking. It will be sold, perhaps, in more urban markets.'