BMW Mini Countryman Introduced as Family Vehicle

Mini typically appeals to the younger buyer, but the newest Mini is aimed at a different audience. The Countryman crossover vehicle has four doors and is Mini’s biggest model ever, meant to accommodate families.

Mini product manager Hans-Joachim Leonhardt said in a recent interview, “Our aim is to unlock a wholly new target audience. Young families with kids, sporty youngsters, folks from modern milieus—everyone can now drive a Mini.”

After BMW decided to sell its underperforming Rover Group in 2001, Mini was restarted. Now a complete revamp of the Mini product lineup is being undertaken, and the new Countryman is part of the plan to make the brand accessible to all kinds of buyers.

Since the restart, 1.7 million Minis have been sold. BMW is hoping that young Mini owners will return to purchase the more expensive and upscale BMW models.

Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany, said, “BMW has been building the Mini brand very successfully in the past ten years, but it needs to evolve. The Mini brand has always spoken to the trendsetters, the post-materialist crowd. The problem with those guys is they’re fairly fidgety and switch products easily and frequently.”

The Mini Countryman will be available first in Europe in September for 20,200 euros, or $25,680. It has extra leg room in the back and generous storage areas. The new regular Mini has also been improved and will sell for 15,500 euros.

Leonhardt predicts that the new Countryman may make up 20% of Mini sales. The new model is named after a Mini station wagon produced in the 1960’s. The Countryman will be in direct competition with the Kia Soul wagon, the Toyota RAV4 SUV and the Nissan Qashqai, says Leonardt. He also said that the vehicle will compete with other German models like the Volkswagen Golf, and the Yeti SUV.

The Mini models are being completely reworked. The standard Mini model, the Clubman and the convertible Mini will all be introduced when the new Countryman becomes available. Sales of the Mini during the first half of the year have jumped 7.6%, totaling 109,301 units.

Michael Punzet, analyst at DZ Bank AG in Frankfurt, Germany says, “I see a danger that they may be cannibalizing their own portfolio.” He recommends buying BMW shares, but states, “The question is whether the model will draw in customers from other carmakers or mainly from other Mini buyers.”

Mini sold 45,000 cars in the U.S., making it the brand’s largest market. The Countryman is due to arrive here in 2011, says Leonhardt. He also said that China will be Mini’s most significant growth market in the near future.

The Countryman features some noticeable differences from the typical Mini including larger, drawn back headlights and a larger radiator grille. The trunk is about 35% bigger than that of the Clubman, and more storage is offered in the back with flip-forward seating.

Daniel Crespi, a Mini dealer in Frankfurt says, “We’re a bit cautious because you never know what will happen. But this fourth model gives us a tool to address customers who we couldn’t get before, like sporty folks or artists who need a lot of space and, of course, young families. Lots of people who talk to us say, ‘no four doors, no Mini.’”

The Countryman features storage for everything from cups to iPods, which can be linked to the vehicle’s computer. Buyers can also opt for a third back seat and may upgrade to four-wheel drive, says Leonhardt.

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