NEW YORK — BMW Group is betting it can lure more customers to Mini by adding crossovers and two-door hatchbacks.
The German luxury automaker appears to be doubling down on its small-car brand even as it acknowledges the challenges of selling to Americans obsessed with light trucks.
BMW Group sales boss Pieter Nota, speaking to Automotive News this month on the sidelines of the Formula E race here, said turning around the Mini business in the U.S. will take new products, including fresh offerings in what Mini calls its Hardtop line.
But new developments also are coming in small crossovers, he said.
"That's a growing segment," Nota added, avoiding specific product plans. "Without revealing anything, we will see growth in that segment."
BMW is addressing an existential crisis for Mini: Customers, especially in the U.S., are ditching small cars for roomy crossovers.
"You see virtually every brand, including the super premiums, moving into these type of vehicles," said Jeff Schuster, president of global forecasting at LMC Automotive. "There is a core buyer for Mini now, and that group is not growing. So moving into this segment could attract new buyers.
"Porsche is a good example of success in stretching a brand into the crossover segment."
Crossovers accounted for 38 percent of the U.S. light-vehicle market last year, up from 27 percent five years ago. During that period, small-car market share shrank to 12 percent from 18 percent. Mini's largest model, the four-door Countryman compact crossover, was the brand's bestselling nameplate through June this year.
Mini's U.S. sales peaked at 66,502 in 2013. The brand declared that year that it would sell more than 100,000 vehicles per year here by 2020. But last year, U.S. sales fell 7.3 percent to 43,684. Sales through June of this year fell 22 percent to 17,583.
Poor sales have dented dealer profitability. That has prompted BMW Group to let Mini dealers downsize their stores or move operations into their BMW locations, sharing backroom expenses to help defray operating costs and real-estate overhead. Dealers are expected to differentiate the brands in the consolidated location, with Mini-branded showrooms and dedicated sales and service employees.
But if BMW Group executives in Munich are worried about Mini's prospects in the world's second-largest auto market, Nota didn't let on in New York.
Mini is an "iconic brand" and will have a leading role in the luxury small-car segment, he said. "We are optimistic that with the new models that will come‚ including the Mini Electric, but also John Cooper Works, we can see a healthy future for the Mini brand in the U.S.," Nota said.
BMW Group's strategy to stick it out in America's collapsing small-car market contrasts with Daimler's decision to yank Smart from the U.S., and Volkswagen's plan to mothball the Beetle.
Nota sees the competition's capitulation as a way to consolidate market share.
"Unlike some of our competitors, we are not turning our back to the U.S.," Nota said. "We see that even as an opportunity."