PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Mini, a small purveyor of compact cars, is figuring out how to thrive in the land of the giants.
In the truck-hungry U.S., the British marque's sales fell last year to 28,138, the lowest since its launch here nearly two decades ago.
With some retailers struggling to justify full-service dealerships — especially in less-populous markets — Mini is considering alternatives to continue to support its base of owners.
One option: service-only locations. As part of a pilot, Mini has authorized seven dealerships to transition to service centers.
Mini is exploring "flexible formats that make sense for the market opportunity," Michael Peyton, head of Mini of the Americas, told Automotive News.
"We've recently launched Mini Anywhere, our online sales tool, that will allow more people that maybe don't have a Mini dealer near them to get a Mini," Peyton said at a press event here last month. "But then the next question will be, 'OK, if I don't have a full dealership near me, how do I get it serviced?' "
As a niche brand, Mini doesn't have the customer base in large swaths of the country to support a full-service dealership, said Jason Willis, chairman of the Mini National Dealer Council.
Yet, there is "Mini fandom," and service-only centers are a way to serve existing customers in those regions, said Willis, dealer principal of Mini of Des Moines in Iowa.
Service center availability has always been a challenge for Mini, said a dealer who requested not to be identified.
"We're selling cars into a lot of white spaces," the dealer said. "In the midsection of the country, customers have to drive two hours to get their car serviced."