When it comes to Mini's future in North America, I have skin in the game. I'm a three-time Mini owner. If the brand is to survive here, parent company BMW needs to fix the good thing that it broke and position Mini vehicles as affordable, fun-to-drive European small cars that are perfect for traffic-choked American roads.
The least expensive Mini Cooper, a three-cylinder stripper model, costs $22,750, including shipping. The most expensive model, a John Cooper Works Countryman ALL4, including shipping, tops out at nearly $58,000. That's plum crazy. Visit a dealership lot and you'll see most Minis have stickers in the $30,000+ range. That's too much for a small car in this SUV-crazed world.
Price is one problem. Styling is another. The current Mini crop is grotesquely out of proportion, with oversized taillights and overly protruding proboscises. The cartoonish cars don't look good coming or going. Since 2000, when BMW took over production of Mini from MG Rover and launched the second generation, the cars have grown in size, price and complexity. And with each new iteration, they have drifted further from the brand's values.
To fix the Mini, BMW needs to:
1. Improve the cars' looks. We Mini drivers want a simple, clean design that is instantly recognizable as a Mini, a car that does not stray far from the original Mini silhouette. Also, we don't need a new platform every five years. Keep it simple and affordable. And keep BMW platforms under BMW vehicles. If we want a BMW, we'll buy one. Mini is the automotive equivalent of a classic Savile Row suit. It doesn't need much changing and updating. The original 1959-2000 model wore the same clothes for its entire production run.
2. Reduce model clutter, size and prices. With Daimler's Smart throwing in the towel in North America, the Fiat 500 faltering to the point of irrelevance and General Motors and Ford getting out of small cars, the market is open for Mini. Sure, there should be premium and high-performance Mini Coopers, but set the price range at, say, $20,000 on the low end (that's out the door for a well-equipped entry-level hatchback) to $35,000 for the most expensive model at the high end. The BMW 2 series -- the same car with a different body -- starts at $36,295, including shipping. Eliminate the price overlap with BMW models.
3. To get some excitement in Mini showrooms, build the stunning Superleggera concept. The snazzy looking roadster, priced at around $30,000, would breathe some life into the brand. It would be the most fun car to roll out of England since the Triumph Spitfire or MG's MGB.
I often tell my friends that my 2010 Cooper S is a joy to drive, that I can fling it into nearly any tight parking space and that the car is the anti-SUV. Despite my driving with a heavy foot much of the time, the car delivers around 32 mpg combined. It has just 27,000 miles on it, but I will have to replace it someday. However, it will be my last Mini unless and until BMW puts the car on a size, weight and price diet and sends it off to the cosmetic surgeon to restore its once classy and classic appearance.