It’s a Mini brand adventure

When BMW-owned Mini unveiled a “stretched” concept car at this month’s Frankfurt Motor Show, it opened the floodgates for the brand’s enthusiasts to speculate that it is about to extend its range to include weird and wonderful new models.

Rumours abound that the appearance of a “Mini Traveller for the 21st Century” could lead to a roll-out of fresh designs, including a 4×4, pick-up truck or even a people carrier. But observers wonder whether Mini is really trying to extend its range – or just create a buzz about its core car to extend already impressive sales.

Since its relaunch in July 2001, Mini has seen a steady increase in UK sales of its classic, Cooper and Cooper S models. It sold 11,628 cars between July and December in its launch year. In 2002, sales reached 35,545; the year after, the total was more than 40,000; and in 2004 some 43,660 were purchased. So far this year, Mini has sold 28,502 cars.

Mini was already thought to be preparing a version of its 1960s Traveller estate brand before the concept model was unveiled in Frankfurt. However, BMW is also understood to have been interested in an adaptation of the Mini by German company Getrag, which has taken the model and added rear-wheel drive that can shift power to the front wheels. A spokeswoman for Mini says: “There has been a lot of speculation, and there are no confirmed new models yet, but Mini is looking to extend the range. We are looking at a range of options, but nothing has been decided at the moment.”

At the Frankfurt show in 2003, the car manufacturer also teamed up with German sportswear giant Puma to unveil a Mini-branded trainer. This has led some brand experts to ruminate on a possible brand extension exercise. FutureBrand client director Ian Louden says: “The main question is whether BMW thinks it has a lifestyle brand, rather than just a car brand. If so, it may consider extending into other areas beyond cars. Mini owners are effectively saying ‘I’m not like the rest’. It’s a conscientious objection to gas-guzzling cars. If they see Mini as individualistic, there is the potential to apply the brand to other merchandise.”

But Louden is among brand specialists warning Mini not to overreach. He adds: “If it over-extends the brand into areas where it loses its ‘Mini-ness’, the company could kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”

Yet David Harris, creative partner at LIDA, which handles direct marketing for Mini, believes brand extension could be successful if handled in the right way. He says: “There are obviously pitfalls for the brand if it becomes a family car, but I think the opportunity is there as long as extensions don’t compromise Mini’s iconic fun element. Because Mini pretty much sells itself, our work focuses on retention. The great thing about the brand is that it’s already individualistic, but you can personalise it further by tailoring features such as the roof, wheels and interior.” LIDA’s work is based on the advertising created by WCRS, using the strapline “It’s A Mini Adventure”. LIDA has also created an online club as part of the Mini website, called the Ministry of Ownership. Mini owners can register to access special offers and updates using their car’s chassis number.

Reports suggest any new Mini cars would not reach the market until after the next update of the core brand in 2007, so the public unveiling of a concept car and subsequent cranking up of the rumour mill could just be a well-driven PR initiative aimed at maintaining the interest of Mini drivers and enthusiasts ahead of that date.

Mini fans will be left wondering whether the rumours represent spin from BMW, or a logical extension of the iconoclastic brand.

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