Mini was once the business model for pricey small cars, creating its own niche in the U.S. But this year, Mini has skidded off the sales charts.
After a flat 2013, Mini's U.S. sales are down 20 percent through October. The slump has left some pundits wondering whether Mini could suffer the problems of other once-trendy retro nameplates.
Mini management says sales are down mainly because of the model changeover for its core vehicle, the two-door Cooper hardtop. The redesigned hardtop, which is larger and shed some of its quirky features, arrived on dealership lots in April. Then dealers suffered a six-week delay of the 2015 Cooper, which arrived in mid-September.
"We knew going into the year that we would be down at least through this point in the year," said David Duncan, who became vice president of Mini of the Americas in January.
"We are starting to claw back our way a little bit. It will be an uphill battle," Duncan said. "We will not get back to where we would be even year over year. It should be a lower decrease than it is so far."
But dealers and analysts say the cold stretch should be a wake-up call. They say Mini needs to bring its marketing and its vehicles closer to the mainstream if it wants to continue to grow toward annual U.S. sales of 100,000 vehicles by 2020, which executives once forecast.
Mini has led a seemingly charmed life since it was relaunched in the United States in 2002 by parent company BMW AG. Sales peaked at 66,502 vehicles last year, and the number of dealers grew to 121, up from the 70 who originally sold the brand.
Mini has grown with zany event marketing and offbeat campaigns, rather than costly TV commercials. It kept adding variants, too. The range grew to seven models.
Now, with a new generation of models in the pipeline, Mini wants to focus on volume products. At this year's Geneva auto show, Oliver Friedmann, the brand's head of product management, said that models such as the Roadster, Paceman and Coupe are not future priorities.