Wall Street Journal publishes one of the most comprehensive and insightful reviews of the MINI brand that we have seen in a long time. Over the last years, BMW has reiterated over and over again that the MINI acquisition has been one of the best decision ever made by the brand.
In 1999, they assumed control over the MINI brand following the departure of BMW’s CEO, Bernd Pischetsrieder. When BMW divested itself of Range Rover in 2000, the Munich-based automaker elected to retain the MINI project, and to move the planned production site of the car from Rover’s Longbridge plant (the former production plant of the traditional Mini) to BMW’s Oxford plant in Cowley, Oxford, United Kingdom (what was historically the Pressed Steel Company body plant).
Over the years, the U.S. has become the biggest MINI market with more MINIs sold here than anywhere in the world. The new MINI Countryman joins the BMW X-family in conquering all the niches in the SAV/SUV segment.
Here is an excerpt from this excellent Wall Street Journal article:
For its part, Mini has been going against conventional wisdom ever since its risky introduction to the U.S.
“It was like a mission for me,” says Jack Pitney, who was BMW’s North American corporate communications chief at the time. “Here was the most successful car in U.K. history, with an uninterrupted production run of 40 years. It needed to be on our roads.” The numbers were against him. “All the classical research said there was no market,” Pitney says. “The Mini brand had less than 1 percent recognition in the U.S.”
His pitch to BMW was that the Mini shouldn’t be marketed as a tiny British hatchback, but instead as a small European sports car with retro flair. Finally, the company gave the North American office a pittance to launch with: around 1/20th of BMW’s North American marketing budget. Still, Pitney promised big, telling his superiors he could move 20,000 cars easily. (BMW’s Z3 roadster—its most successful sports car ever—sold 19,600 the year it hit the market.) “We thought we were hanging it way out there. American cars were getting bigger—the Hummer H2 was just coming out—and here we were bringing the smallest car to the market and charging a premium for it,” Pitney says. Without the budget for TV spots or glossy magazine ads, Pitney put everything into emphasizing the car’s human scale. “We bought two Ford Excursions, mounted Minis on top of them, and drove them around New York City.” Then they put a Mini in the stands at baseball stadiums to create the impression that the car was watching the game with fans. (Their people sometimes take this anthropomorphism to a nauseating extreme—as when they refer to buying a car as an adoption.)