While rest of industry is in recession, these cars are selling like hot cakes


Mini Clubman is a new product that is expected to keep the Mini brand’s sales high through 2008.

The Patriot Ledger
Posted Apr 03, 2008 @ 10:03 AM
Last update Apr 03, 2008 @ 10:05 AM

Auto industry analysts are forecasting a grim year for new car sales in 2008. This would continue a recession in auto sales that began in June 2006. Since then, with few exceptions, overall auto sales have been tumbling. The decline got even steeper during the first two months of 2007.

However, one automaker, Mini, defies the doom and gloom with sales that keep skyrocketing. Mini sales were up 33 percent during the first two months of the year. Inventories are low as they’ve been since Mini sales began in the U.S. in 2002.

Mini U.S.A. Vice President Jim McDowell forecasts a 10 percent increase in deliveries this year. Last year, there were 42,045 Minis sold in the U.S. McDowell says he expects supplies of new Mini models will drop to almost zero once the summer begins.

“The world is becoming more Mini,” McDowell said recently. He says that the small car appeals to customers who crave more fuel-efficient vehicles that pollute less. “We’re leaving (natural) resources for the next generation.”

The Mini’s popularity is so great that there are no incentives or discounts needed to sell the brand. Virtually all Minis sell for the full sticker price. What’s more, Mini buyers typically add $4,000 to $5,000 in options with their new purchase.

A new stretched Mini, called Clubman, recently went on sale and should boost the brand’s sales even more. Most of the first Clubman models went to buyers who ordered the vehicle months before it actually went on sale.

Vincent Kung, a Mini product planner, predicts 50 to 60 percent of Clubman buyers will be new to the Mini brand. Kung also expects the new longer Mini will appeal to a buyer who’s younger than the current average age of the Mini customer, which is 44. Kung says the Clubman will be a magnet for a more active group of buyers.

The Clubman Cooper comes with a 118 horsepower naturally aspirated engine. The Clubman Cooper S version has a 172 hp turbocharged mill. Both are four-cylinder engines, built at the BMW engine plant in Hams Hall, England.

BMW designed the engine with Peugeot. The French company uses the powerplant in a wide range of models that are not sold in this country, while BMW only uses it in the Mini. The engine is among the shortest four-cylinder units in its displacement class.

Some buyers complain about the car’s fuel economy, even though it is rated at 37 mpg highway. Despite that high fuel economy, the Clubman doesn’t leave much to desire in the way of spirited performance.

One of the more unusual features of the Clubman is the split rear door that allows access to the generous storage area, yet the doors don’t give the vehicle a commercial-type of appearance. The Clubman Cooper carries a suggested price of $20,600, while the more powerful Cooper S version has a $24,100 sticker price. Both prices include the $650 destination charge. Average transaction prices are expected to run about $2,500 above the sticker, Kung says.

The Clubman Cooper S is forecast to account for 55 percent of sales during launch months, says Stephen Saward, sales manager for Mini.

“We’re planning on a 50/50 split between Cooper and Cooper S later on,” he says.

There’s only a 10- to 15-day supply at dealers, but it’s possible to buy a Clubman off the lot in some regions. However, customized orders are expected to take two months for delivery to East Coast customers and a month longer for those on the West Coast, Saward says.

The Clubman won’t be the last variant Mini intends to introduce in coming years. The next Mini model to be introduced will be the second-generation convertible that will debut about a year from now, McDowell says. A crossover utility vehicle is also in the works but remains a couple of years from introduction.

McDowell says there are no plans for a hybrid model.

“We see more potential with clean diesels,” he says. But a diesel Mini won’t happen until a new-generation diesel is developed.

Source: Patriot Ledger