DETROIT -- Mini USA isn’t joking when it says its cars come standard with friends.
On the Detroit leg of the automaker’s biennial “Mini Takes The States” cross-country trip for owners on Wednesday, the city’s popular Eastern Market district was bustling with personalized Minis, food trucks, live music and hundreds of people from around the country who share a passion for the brand.
Similar scenes have played out in places such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Baltimore and Pittsburgh over the last week.
This year’s two-week road trip crosses through 18 states. The festivities began with a driving event at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 9 and will continue through July 23 for a closing act in Palm Springs, Calif.
The cross country tour comes amid a slump in sales for the brand -- U.S. deliveries have slipped 17 percent this year as more and more Americans embrace crossovers, SUVs and other light trucks.
“It’s gratifying as a company to see this level of pride in the vehicles and this much involvement. It’s more similar to Harley Davidson than it is to another car [company],” Patrick McKenna, head of product planning and aftersales for Mini USA, told Automotive News during the Detroit event as music blared in the background. “Maybe you have a Corvette following, maybe you have a Mustang following, but you don’t have something for an entire brand of this magnitude.”
The legion of Minis is heading north for the next stop in St. Ignace in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. From there, they’ll begin the western swing by hitting Green Bay, Wis., before heading to Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, S.D.
The tour is more than just driving as drivers and riders get a chance to sightsee along the way. So far, the participants have visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., the 9/11 memorial site for Flight 93 and the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield in Pennsylvania.
During a brief stop in a small South Carolina town, a Mini spokesman said the mayor was handing out keys to the city to some drivers.
Enthusiasm for the trips, which Mini began in 2006, continues to grow. In 2012, 250 people made the entire trip. Then it jumped to 450 people in 2014 and 900 this year.
Overall, around 4,300 people -- many of whom can’t make the full trek -- will participate in the tour this year.
Richard Davis, a Mini owner from Columbus, Ga., is traveling the entire route with his wife and son. He’s helping Mini raise money for the non-profit Feeding America to combat hunger.
Fellow riders in Detroit were signing his Mini, which is blanketed in a navy blue “plasti dip” coating, in a show of support. Davis was on the Mini tour briefly back in 2012, but this will be his first time completing the full trip.
His wife and son made their rounds to each city during the 2014 tour.
“You can think it’s just a cliché or saying, but the Mini comes with a family,” Davis said. “All these people here are having a great time.”
The two-week journey means many riders have to begin saving their vacation days two years in advance so they can take in the entire trip.
McKenna said a Florida couple on the tour showed up for the opening day in Atlanta and then took an eight-hour ride back to Florida for a wedding. They then jumped back on the road for another 8-hour haul and rejoined the tour.
McKenna said the eager couple told the bride and groom it was “nothing personal.”
“It’s remarkable to see what people have to do to get themselves here,” McKenna said. “The minute this is done, they’ll be online talking about the next one.”