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JBsC5
05-10-2002, 08:42 AM
Mini's retro look proves to be a big hit

May 10, 2002

COLUMN BY DORON LEVIN
BLOOMBERG NEWS


The new Mini Cooper, a car for parking-challenged nostalgics, is selling too fast for dealers to keep in stock.

Since its U.S. introduction March 22, dealers have sold 2,300 of the pint-sized retro models, and say their first-year allotment of 20,000 cars will be gone long before yearend.

A big to-do about a minuscule part of a U.S. market that will see 16.5 million or so new vehicles sold this year?

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, the luxury carmaker that now owns the Mini brand, is more than happy. The No. 2 German car producer views the $17,000 Mini as a lure for people who normally aren't prospects for costly BMWs; Mini sales helped raise first-quarter profit a better-than-expected 3.8 percent, BMW says.

Since the Mini's June debut in the U.K., the original's birthplace, BMW has sold 28,000 units and is on track to sell out the annual production capacity of its assembly plant in Oxford, England. At full speed, the plant can build 100,000 Minis a year.

BMW isn't the first automaker to target aging baby boomers with a look-alike from yesteryear that's been outfitted with up-to-date engineering and more quality than the original.

Volkswagen AG brought back a restyled Beetle in 1998 and DaimlerChrysler AG returned to the 1930s gangster era in 2000 with its Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Both models flew out of showrooms for a year or so, before sales weakened as a fickle public's attention turned elsewhere. Such models are always risky. Not only are they expensive to develop, they appeal to a smaller target audience than do mainstream family sedans or sport utility vehicles.

Still, automakers can't help dreaming up cars for ever-slimmer niches in a desire to build sales and gain an edge for their brands, even if brisk early sales of Minis and the like dwindle as the novelty of the new design fades.

Volkswagen's Beetle, a hit with reviewers, sold more than 80,000 annually for two years in the U.S. Sales dropped to 65,000 in 2001 and are off 21 percent this year. Now VW hopes to rekindle Beetle's buzz and sales with a high-powered turbo engine; a convertible version comes out later this year.

PT Cruiser sales are down 5.3 percent through April, though the company blames the drop on the fact buyers aren't offered the same financial incentives as come with competitive brands.

"No one is pressing the panic button on PT," said Jan Zverina, a DaimlerChrysler spokesman. A turbo-charged version will appear this fall and a convertible is promised for 2004.

Meantime, DaimlerChrysler shut a PT Cruiser assembly line in Austria and is consolidating production at its Mexico plant.

BMW believes "the distinction between Beetle, PT Cruiser and Mini is that we're launching a brand," according to Jack Pitney, the brand's general manager.

The automaker hopes to supplement sales with a line of clothing and other accessories at dealerships, which are being asked to provide changing rooms for customers. Mini dealers also have a BMW showroom next door.

British Motor Corp., now defunct, came out in 1959 with the original Mini, a car whose tiny engine reached 60 miles an hour and got 37 miles to the gallon.

The car was a response to the feared loss of Middle East oil after the Suez Crisis in 1956. It became the hip hit of the 1960s. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and British royals all drove Minis, as did millions of young and older drivers seeking to squeeze into the ever-fewer, and tighter, parking spaces in their cities.

BMW's acquisition in 1994 of Rover Group Plc, for the most part a financial and strategic disaster, is providing benefits as the Mini's redesign turns it into a cult vehicle.

The new Mini is taller, wider, nearly two-feet longer and more powerful than the last Mini built by Rover -- and 900 pounds heavier. It also has air conditioning and electronic accessories that extend its appeal to the young and upwardly mobile, as well as the graying and wistful.

BMW obviously isn't giving discounts on Minis, whose dealers boast of long waiting lists and are sometimes showered with candy and flowers by would-be buyers. Some Minis have shown up on Ebay's Web auction site at $5,000 premium to their list price.

Events are thus proceeding according to the script. BMW must still be wondering how long Mini fever will last before it needs reheating with a convertible top or, bite your tongue, cash rebates.

78Z
05-10-2002, 02:30 PM
I like it a lot better than the new Beetle or the PT Crusier. The PT wasn't bad but was underpowered but the turbo model should fix that. The new Beetle was just a re-bodied Golf with less practicality and a higher cost. I wonder how those people who paid a big premium for the Beetle when it was introduced feel now - they are discounts on it now.

JBsC5
05-11-2002, 09:43 AM
The press is glowing on this car..this months Automobile magazine is in love with it.

Every magazine publication has a new favorite..its the MINI!