Commentary

Mini Enters Premium Compact Market With Totally Revamped Clubman

BMW Group yesterday introduced a longer, four-door and five-passenger 2016 Clubman that not only will be its flagship in the U.S. market but also will lead it into the “premium compact” market. It also swung the crushing ball at three under-performing models: its Paceman, Coupe and Roadster. And, BMW says in a blog post, it is “realigning the Mini brand’s product and brand strategy.”

The new Clubman will go on sale in January. According to BMW, the premium compact market segment “promises the strongest growth in the future” with studies forecasting annual growth of 4%. It projects that the segment “will account for more than 27% of the total global premium passenger car market by 2020.”

“There will be a different tonality and a look starting with the Clubman,” according to David Duncan, VP of Mini of the Americas, Diana T. Kurylko reports for Automotive News. “We are going to keep a premium nature — this is a serious car that someone like a junior executive could use on a daily basis.”

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A Clubman that launched in 2007 went out of production in June 2014, Kurylko reports. “Even though it shares the name with its predecessor, it is truly a new car,” says Duncan. “It is a more premium car and a larger car and will be the largest car in our lineup.” Its base price will be about $26,800.

Peter Schwarzenbauer, a member of the board of management of BMW AG, explained how he plans to develop the brand thusly in the blog post: “The new Mini Clubman is the symbol of our refined brand philosophy: We will concentrate in [the] future on five core models with strong characters. We will open ourselves up to new ideas and new business areas. We will develop the brand’s visual identity.”

Clubman buyers will be able to rent their vehicles out to others through the car-sharing service DriveNow, a joint venture between BMW and German car rental firm Sixt that’s currently in several European and North American cities, reports William Boston for the Wall Street Journal.

“The option could help [owners] earn money from car-sharing fees when their vehicle would otherwise sit idle,” writes Boston. “Like similar services, customers pay a registration fee, a basic usage fee and per-minute rates. Smartphone apps allow users to locate and reserve vehicles.” 

Marketing Daily’s Karl Greenberg reports on Ford’s Smart Mobility Plan, which is testing flexible ownership models and multimodal urban travel — such as the new electric MoDe:Flex electric bicycle — here.

The Mini division “delivered about about 163,000 vehicles between January and June, and expects record sales in 2015,”  Schwarzenbauer said at the event in Berlin where the new Clubman was unveiled, reports Reuters’ Edward Taylor. He also revealed that the brand is “exploring electric and plug-in hybrid drivetrains.”

CNNMoney’s Peter Valdes-Dapena reports that the new Mini Clubman shares some engineering with the BMW 1-series and “will be nicer, as well as bigger, than other Mini models, according to Duncan. 

“Interior trim options will provide ‘near bespoke levels of customization,’ according to Mini. Among the new types of upholstery created specifically for this model is an indigo blue leather with diamond patterned stitching modeled after the English Chesterfield sofas,” Valdes-Dapena writes.

“The move upmarket is a sensible one,” Tim Urquhart, a London-based analyst at IHS Automotive, tells Bloomberg’s Elisabeth Behrmann. “They are certainly making the cars more sophisticated, larger and boosting equipment levels.” 

Behrmann points out that although “BMW didn’t say when the three models would cease production … the two-seat coupe and open-top roadster no longer appear on its website” in Germany. “Some models haven’t worked,” Urquhart tells her. “And the Paceman is the answer to a question that no buyer asked.”

The pricey — for Mini — Paceman was a “crossover coupe designed to blend the performance of the iconic Hardtop with the practicality of the Countryman … along with a unique, unconventional look,” according to Left Lane. Or, as Scripps Howard News Service’s Frank A. Aukofer put it: “In human terms, the 2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman would be diagnosed with a personality disorder” (and his review went downhill from there).

But if BMW has proven anything over the last decade and a half, it’s that there is a huge market for putting a fresh face on old ideas. It’s also apparently adept at smoothly shifting gears.

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