NEW ORLEANS -- Mini has struggled to find its place in the U.S., where vehicle shoppers increasingly shun cars for crossovers and other light trucks.
One possible solution: The redesigned Countryman crossover arrives in U.S. showrooms in March.
The new Countryman, 7.8 inches longer and 2.9 inches wider than its predecessor, is the largest vehicle in Mini's portfolio and now is considered a compact, rather than subcompact, crossover.
Dealers hope it can solve the brand's volume problems.
"We think [the Countryman] will fit nicely right now with cheap gas, and the car segment all over the industry being down," Michael Vadasz, general manager of Otto's Mini in Exton, Pa., and chairman of the Mini National Dealer Council, told Automotive News after Mini's make meeting at the NADA convention.
"We think this will be a nice contender to get some of that volume back," he said.
The redesign comes after Mini sales plummeted 11 percent in 2016, vs. a 0.3 percent gain for the industry as a whole.
Vadasz said he hopes the Countryman will help boost the brand's awareness in the U.S., which dealers have said Mini must address this year.
Thomas Felbermair, vice president of Mini of the Americas, said Mini will roll out a marketing campaign this year for the Countryman, after last year's efforts to drive up awareness via a Super Bowl commercial titled "Defy Labels."
Vadasz acknowledged that Mini is in a "tough spot" on marketing, considering the poor health of the U.S. car market.
"With our budget and what it is, we can't broadcast on TV like Fiat, for example, did a couple years back," he said.
"We have to be more creative and more diligent with how we spend our money."
Felbermair said Mini has also invested heavily in its used-car business as a way to improve margins for its dealers in the wake of low new-car sales.
"We're focused on stabilizing our volume," he said. "We really want to grow in this country."