Mini USA celebrates 10-year anniversaryWed, 21 Mar 2012 00:00:00 -0700
Mini USA issued a celebratory press release on Wednesday marking the 10th anniversary of its entry into the U.S. car market. The Anglo-Germanic reimagining of Sir Alec Issigonis's OG hot hatch has spawned six new models since 2002, including a convertible for hairdressers and a tiny SUV for forest gnomes.
Kidding aside, the reintroduction of the Mini was a boon for a subsection of the American car-buying public that many companies mistreated or ignored for years—the small-car enthusiast.
Think about the small-car options available to buyers in these United States prior to the introduction of the Mini. Now, think about those that have come to market since: the MK V Volkswagen GTI, the 2012 Ford Focus and Fiesta, the Honda Fit, the Fiat 500, the etc., etc. The influence that high gasoline prices--and the attendant increase in demand for small cars--have had on the improved state of the small car cannot be ignored, but neither can the influence of the Mini.
One of the great and immutable American automobile-industry truisms that almost sank the entire American automobile industry on several occasions used to go something like this: Small cars cannot be built and sold profitably as their primary appeal is in their cheapness.
In a post-Mini-by-BMW world, General Motors builds a reportedly good, near-premium small Buick. In the past, marketers would nail a Buick badge to a Chevrolet Cavalier and put their hands on their hips and smile broadly. Today's Ford pits a remarkably high-quality Focus against the Honda Civic and no one laughs. It's a whole new world.
Unlike some of the newly capable competitors that showed up just a few years late to the small-car party, Mini's fun, quirky cars still capture the imagination of a good many car buyers who prefer small, relatively efficient cars but who don't want to sacrifice driving dynamics or unique styling. The company even goes out of its way to stress that owning and driving a car should be fun and emotionally involving. No wonder, then, that Mini's cars have endeared themselves to both casual car buyers and hard-core enthusiasts like few other reasonably affordable, modern cars have. What other car has gained acceptance with weekend autocrossers and their image-conscious significant others?
Minis aren't just popular among those who prefer the BBC's version of The Office to NBC's version, either. The fun-first brand has come to account for one in five BMW Group car sales in the United States, and Mini has expanded its dealer network from 66 to 112 in the process.
Need further proof? Watch for the comment space below this post to fill with vitriol over my “hairdressers and forest gnomes” remark.
Despite the many happy numbers in Mini USA's press release, the little buggers are not for everyone, and they are far from ubiquitous. But, for everyone who groans about how modern carmakers have sold their souls for big sales numbers, here is the plucky Mini. Ten years on, their cars are still selling, still making a profit on their irrepressible verve. Good for Mini.
By Rory Carroll