It was proof that less really can be more.
Since BMW re-launched the much-loved Mini brand in 2001, the compact car has achieved formidable growth, thanks mainly to the increasing number of models.
Now, however, the variety of the range has reached its limits, said Peter Schwarzenbauer, the BMW management board member responsible for the Mini. “There simply aren’t any more niches,” he said. He wants to prune the portfolio down from seven models to five during the next five to six years.
The future range will consist of a new line of Mini “superheroes,” and will include a new open-top model, a roadster, an SUV and a Mini Clubman, coming out in 2015. One aim is to make the cars much easier to tell apart, from a very small Mini to one that is considerably larger than today’s models.
Even BMW strategists do not yet know how the fifth model will look – although Mini has already presented one daring concept car, the Superleggera, a two-seat sports car with a radically retro design. Reactions to it have ranged from euphoria to utter disgust, according to Mr. Schwarzenbauer.
Reactions to the Superleggera model have ranged from euphoria to utter disgust.
BMW’s management board is certain of one thing: Mini will develop an electric-drive urban model. But this will take between two and four years to develop, as the batteries first have to be shrunk down to Mini size.
Mini wants to counter the loss of innovation with a promise to sharpen up its models. “Always bigger, wider, bulkier – at some point that fizzles out,” warned Ferdinand Dudenhöffer of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen, referring to the latest five-door Mini.
He can understand that the model might be a good compromise for customers who want more room in the car but don’t want the larger Countryman crossover SUV. “It makes it more like a Golf and it becomes an all-rounder,” said Mr. Dudenhöffer. “That can cost character.”
Mini has distinguished itself from the BMW brand, mainly because 52 percent of buyers are women, compared with 26 percent of BMW buyers. And with an average age of 45, new Mini buyers are also relatively young.
However, company strategists are having a hard time defining the brand's target group. Single people are as likely to buy the car as families who need a third vehicle. Only one thing is clear: Minis are primarily in demand in cities, said Mr. Schwarzenbauer.
Company strategists are having a hard time defining the brand's target group.
BMW’s management board has rejected volume growth as a strategy simply because of more intense competition. “When we launched the Mini in 2001, it practically had no competition in its sector. Today, it is probably the most copied make of car,” Mr. Schwarzenbauer said.
That is why BMW, as a premium carmaker, must concentrate on creating value rather than trying to increase sales as customers are willing to pay more money for that, he noted.
Mini expects sales to stagnate in 2014. By the end of October, they had even shrunk by more than five percent compared to the same period last year, a drop BMW blames on the current model changeover.
The author is a freelance writer for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]