New Mini Ragtop a Big Deal

The Mini convertible hit dealer showrooms last month with enough anticipation to ensure a sellout this year. The auto maker will be under a severe supply constraint with the new model, predicts Richard Steinberg, Mini's manager-product strategy. He expects to sell 3,000-5,000 convertibles in 2004, depending on how many are allotted to the U.S. market. Mini expects the convertible to capture one-third

The Mini convertible hit dealer showrooms last month with enough anticipation to ensure a sellout this year.

The auto maker will be under a severe supply constraint with the new model, predicts Richard Steinberg, Mini's manager-product strategy.

He expects to sell 3,000-5,000 convertibles in 2004, depending on how many are allotted to the U.S. market. Mini expects the convertible to capture one-third of the brand's sales in 2005.

Steinberg says the diminutive ragtop will carry a $4,500 premium over the sedan.

He expects the typical transaction prices for the new model to be “a little over $20,000 for the Cooper and about $24,000 for the supercharged Cooper S.”

He also expects a 50/50 mix between the two models and a 50/50 mix of male/female buyers. The sedan has been running 60% male buyers.

Since the Mini was introduced here two-and-a-half years ago, 88% of purchasers have been new customers to parent company BMW AG.

U.S. Mini sales were down 3% year-on-year through August, but Steinberg expects to finish the year with about 36,000 sales, the same as last year.

Mini's goal with the new cabriolet was to maintain the iconic brand's performance.

“We wanted to make sure we lost none of the fun when we took the top off,” Steinberg says.

The '05 ragtop and the sedan get a boost in performance with the Cooper S 1.6L engine, now rated at 168 hp, vs. 163 hp. in the '04 sedan. The '05 sedan also comes with a 6-speed Getrag gearbox.

The convertible comes with a remote control that not only opens door locks, the trunk and the fuel door, but also opens the roof and side windows from 49 ft. away. The top can also be raised by putting the key in the door lock and holding it in the locked position.

The convertible offers unique wheels from the sedan, ranging from 15 ins. to 17 ins. in.

Only 78 of BMW's 345 dealers have franchises to sell the British-built car. And Mini only intends to add about one dealer annually for the next four to five years.

Dealers must architecturally separate Mini and BMW showrooms, with a separate dedicated sales force. Mini requires a minimum 2,000-sq.-ft. (186-sq.-m) display space. Most dealers have achieved this by adding to their existing structures.

“Maybe three or four years from now the Mini brand can support a standalone structure,” Steinberg says. But that will have to wait for the brand portfolio to be expanded.

He says additional variants are in the planning stage but declines to say what type of models they would be. There has been speculation in automotive circles that Mini eventually may offer a station wagon and, perhaps, a pickup truck.

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