BMW, Mini Grapple With Differentiation


  • BMW Concept Active Tourer Picture

    BMW Concept Active Tourer Picture

    BMW and Mini are facing the major challenge of how to share a front-wheel-drive platform and parts and yet play up their differences. | April 09, 2013

Just the Facts:
  • Although they will share a new front-wheel-drive platform, BMW and Mini plan to play up vehicle size and pricing differences as they enter a new era.
  • Executives at BMW and Mini are confident buyers won't be shortchanged by the common heritage.
  • BMW is considering how to inject some of Mini's fun factor into its image.

NEW YORK — Although their cars will share a new front-wheel-drive platform, engines and a wide range of components, U.S. executives at BMW and Mini are confident buyers won't be shortchanged by the common heritage.

Mini will continue to hype the go-kart experience and BMW will tout the "the ultimate driving machine" is their message.

Sometime next year, BMW will launch the first of several front- and all-wheel-drive vehicles. One of the models is expected to be based on BMW's Concept Active Tourer, a five-door hatchback that was unveiled at the 2012 Paris Auto Show. Mini, meanwhile, will introduce its redesigned 2014 hardtop in April 2014. In all, around 11 models will be created on the front-drive platform, with the bulk of the models going to the Mini family. BMW owns Mini.

Besides the obvious styling differences between the two brands, vehicle size and pricing will distinguish the BMW models from Mini's. BMW of North America CEO Ludwig Willisch told Edmunds that BMW's models will differ in terms of length, height, track and wheelbase.

"We can really play with the wheelbase big time," Willisch said in an interview. "The (BMW) cars can be between 150 and 180 inches in length."

For example, BMW's Concept Active Tourer is 171.3 inches long. By contrast, the current generation 2013 Mini Cooper is 146.6 inches long and the Countryman is 161.7 inches. Additionally, BMW models will sit a little taller than Minis and the suspension will be tuned for a BMW experience. He did not elaborate.

"We have a lot of experience with Mini, making that fun," Willisch said. "That means we probably can learn from that experience for BMW."

There will be a price difference "because BMW's cars will be a different size," he said, meaning BMWs will carry a higher sticker price. Pricing for both cars will be released closer to on sale date.

Willisch said it is too early to talk about the specific vehicles that will be sold in the United States. However, although BMW will create several models, not all will be sold here.

Jim McDowell, vice president of Mini USA, told Edmunds he is not concerned about sharing a platform, powertrain and components with BMW's new model line.

Mini has shared engines in the past with other automakers, for example. The engine in the first-generation Mini came from Chrysler. The second generation was purchased from Peugeot. This third generation will be a BMW engine.

BMW's engineers "know how to make the car feel totally brand-appropriate and they understand completely what they need to do to make a Mini drive like a go-kart," McDowell said in an interview. "With each of those cooperation partners our cars drove very differently from each other."

McDowell is optimistic U.S. sales will continue to grow. Mini sold 66,200 vehicles last year in the United States, a record year for the brand, up from about 57,500 in 2011. He expects sales this year to break last year's record.

What's next? A 100,000 sales year is attainable in the United States, McDowell said, although a time frame was not provided. He cited the upcoming redesigned models for his optimism, additional Mini dealerships and those established Mini dealers who are building a dedicated facility. Mini has 116 U.S. dealers and nine additional dealerships are under construction.

"What people tend to forget is that we have about 30 other construction sites where original dealers are building new (exclusive) buildings," he said. Some of these Mini dealerships currently share a building with a BMW dealership.

"We expect a dealership like that, when it moves (to a new location), can easily sell 50 percent more cars out of a fully exclusive Mini facility because it is such a cool place to go to buy your car," he said.

Edmunds says: BMW may be seeking the fun factor, but don't expect any YouTube videos of a BMW 3 Series doing a backflip.

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