Here’s The Problem

A few things. While I have been a fairly bad MINI enthusiast of late, I do still have one and he is finally going to be getting some love in the very near future. Don’t worry, you will hear all about it here as it happens.

Next, watch the video linked above.

For 10 days, I spent some quality time behind the wheel of a 2016 Chevy Malibu. It is not the first time I have had this as a rental, and I hope it’s not the last. As a car, it’s better than adequate I’d say. Comfortable, well equipped, decent mileage and it has enough power to get out of it’s own way. For a car, it actually handles pretty well too. Plus it has Car Play / Android Auto and the Chevy info-tainment system, overall, is really nice. But that is for another post. Honestly, if this car had better tires and slightly better transmission, I’d consider having one for daily driving duties.

But, more to my point. This car costs almost the same as a new MINI the way it is equipped. Apple Play / Android auto comes by default. A nice-ish screen that can be viewed wearing sunglasses. An interior that makes sense. To the non-enthusiast buyer, this would be a very nice car.

I still think the MINI is nicer. And more fun to drive. Plus the community, MINI Takes the States, AMVIV / Southwest MINI Fest (insert your favorite event here). Plus all of you guys. Plus the show. Is there a Malibu podcast? Clubs? Tuners? I don’t think so, at least not at our level. Is there a Detroit Tuned or or CravenSpeed? Nope? No Chad, no Way, no Jerry, no Marzo. None of that.

Do you get a sense for any of that with the commercial above? I know I don’t. I get the sense that MINI is trying to be like their older brother BMW. At this moment in my life, I don’t really want a BMW. I want a MINI. This ad doesn’t speak to me. Apparently, it doesn’t speak to you either based on sales of MINIs in the United States.

As we have talked about on the show numerous times, this marketing direction MINI has taken in the US just isn’t working. They are targeting people that don’t watch TV by running ads on cable networks. Did anyone notice that they didn’t run a Motortober event this year? Did your local dealer do anything cool for MotorTober? No? That’s ok, mine didn’t either.

In my very humble opinion, this is where MINI is getting it wrong. They are trying too hard to tell everyone that it’s a premium car. They are trying too hard to appeal to people that like craft beer and brick walls. They are trying too hard to sell to people that don’t care that much about cars.

They need to find a way to get people back into the dealers to look at the cars. Ads like the one above aren’t it. They need to find a way to say it’s a premium product without shoving it down our throats. The old, fun, ads, aren’t the ticket either. That MINI has long gone, and we all know that. It’s time for something new.

And they better offer Car Play / Android auto stat! Again, for another post, but this Chevy system with Car Play blows the doors off of anything found in any MINI or BMW. No fooling.

Speaking of the show, with Todd in Vegas for SEMA this past week and me traveling for work for the rest of this week and most of next, we are on a bit of a break. We will be back very soon! And you know this is definitely something that we are going to talk about.

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  1. OK DB, here goes. BTW – I still have my 02 MCS and my wife’s 13 Countryman S. I am a MINI enthusiast. BUT…..

    I now work in downtown Seattle overlooking a major highway. I see a lot of MINI’s go by. I rarely see a new one on the road. I see a TON of new Coopers and Clubmans on the street. However, they are all part of some ride share company fleet. If not for them, the new MINI would be rare in Seattle.

    Of the three things that hurt MINI, the first is the price. That has been beat to death by everyone. If you want to premium, you can charge premium. You just have to back it up with premium. Which brings us to number two, premium reliability. MINI does not have it. I really wish it was better than it is.

    Lastly, to me, is the design. Just fire the industrial designers. Look at the car. It is awful. They are not the only car maker with issues….Lexus. The best classic car designs have been clean. MINI designers seem to have the idea that just slap some more crap on the car and call it ‘performance’ or ‘premium’.

    I love my 02, but I NEED a new car. I just cannot see myself spending large money for anything from MINI. I would rather spend a few grand more and buy a Jag XE. Who would have thought 14 years ago that a nicely equipped MINI would be only a few grand from a new Jag. Think about that for a minute.

    BTW – I will be in Phoenix in Feb. I owe you a beer just for the above rant…..

    1. I would have to agree on the reliability front Alan, especially when looking at the pre-LCI R56 MCS’ (ok, and post LCI too). But the new cars seems to have mostly gotten over that particular hump, or at least issues are getting caught sooner than they are showing up as posts at NAM or MA.

      Also, I agree on the price, but have you looked at pricing for decent cars lately? This Malibu I’m renting comes in at a tidy $28-$30K. For a Malibu? Even a Focus (and not the RS), is getting close to $30K. Show me any car, new, that we first gen MINI owners would love to drive for $25K or less. And you can’t say MX5 since you have to be the same size at a horse jockey to drive one.

      Sure, back in the day (which was 14 years ago), MINIs were less expensive. But considering the current market, they aren’t priced horribly. I’ve been having a hard time with a $30K MINI myself, especially when a low mileage 528i was just added to the garage for the same price.

      Let me know when you get to town. I will let you owe me that beer!

  2. You’re not saying anything that I didn’t say to you guys on WRR seven years ago when I traded my MCS in for the GTi.

    Pre-diesel taint VW was building GTis and Golfs that were every bit as good as the MINI, with better tech than the MINI, for easily $5k less, and regardless of what Gabe was saying – they’re good cars.

    MINI had no option but to market as “premium” – because they just can’t compete on price against VW and everybody else out there making sporty hatchbacks. When the market was just them and VW the higher price wasn’t that much of a handicap, but now that there are several competitors in that space and all of them cheaper than MINI their only option was to either compromise on price (fat chance) or bill themselves as premium.

    But back 7+ years ago we also used to talk about the price ceiling for MINIs… With the exception of the few special editions or fully loaded JCWs a MINI over $33k was a rare beast, with most under $30k because over $30k was BMW territory. Now, half (if not more) of MINI’s product line jumps over the $30k mark with the addition of just an option or two, and it doesn’t take long to configure a Countryman or Clubman over $40k.

    I liked my Countryman, and really like my Clubbie (even though it’s the first MINI that Patricia doesn’t like driving) and it definitely feels much more “premium” than any MINI we’ve ever had before. But I’m also not sure it feels more like what I’d expect a $40k car would feel like (given how easy it is to configure a $40+k Clubman) as opposed to a $30k Tiguan when it comes to fit and finish. Even more importantly, as MINI keeps pushing these prices up into “luxury car” range at some point we’ll end up skipping MINI and going right to Mercedes or Audi if we can afford it and not stay with MINI or even look at BMW.

    I think MINI is trying to chase the folks who were attracted to MINIs 10+ years ago but have “grown up” since then. That’s why the entire lineup has gotten bigger – they’re chasing a perceived change of lifestyles and income. That’s not a bad strategy, but one look at the MTTS crowd and it should be obvious to MINI that their demographic isn’t looking for a “posh, artisinal, hipster mobile” and never has been – but that’s what the new campaigns feel like they’re targeting.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Michael! One can tell it’s been awhile since the regulars commented when I have to approve them.

      You are right, all counts. Especially the VW part. Hell, Alex was really close to getting one instead of the JCW. And MINI is having a hard time competing on price not just with cars in it’s segment, but with cars in general. For example, I would look really hard at this Malibu if I were looking at a Clubman. Really hard.

      I don’t think MINI is chasing us any longer. Those that have chosen to grow up have and moved on. Those who chose to stick with MINI have because of brand loyalty or they still like the car, at least that is the way that I see it. They are chasing the folks that are looking for “posh, artisinal, hipster mobile”. The problem is, those folks are spending their money on Uber or Lyft and can’t be bothered to actually own a car. Again, IMO.

      But tell us more about the little red number in your garage now! That car is very cool!

      1. For a second I felt bad for not commenting in a while – then I noticed that your last post before this is dated November 2015 and didn’t feel nearly as bad…

        Honestly if I was going to consider Chevy at this point I’d look at a used Volt. I didn’t feel like the first gen cars felt like $30k to $35k cars (pre-tax incentives) with all the plastic that was in them – but a 20k to 30k mile one coming off a lease for $16k or $17k doesn’t seem like that bad of a deal. We drove a used one last year and came away impressed. Outside of that the last time I drove a Chevy it was an Impalla – and I thought the experience was bland. There wasn’t anything about the car or the ride that made the car stand out in my mind.

        As for MINI – honestly I think the larger size of the Clubman fits the design aesthetic of the F series cars much better than the F56 or or F55. Things seem to flow better design wise on the wider car. And while I’m not thrilled that the new F60 is even bigger than the F54, I do think that the F60 is a good looking car.

        But 4 to 5 years from now when I’m considering moving away from the F54, I can’t say with any certainty that what comes next will be a MINI. I don’t want to go bigger than the F54, but will want AWD for the Ohio winters, and even 4 years from now you’ll probably be able to get a lot of car for the mid to upper $30k range.

        And do you know the full story of how the red LBC ended up in our garage?

  3. I wanted a new MINI since the re-launch in 2002, but couldn’t make it work for the family until last year. That’s when I bought a used 2009 R55 Clubman S and totally in love with driving her and listening to White Roof Radio on my commute. It’s the best.

    My budget required that I buy a used car and I new the Gen 3 models were out, but I still test drove one to be sure. I didn’t care for it. It felt too much like a BMW and less like a MINI. I know you guys have talked about it a lot and that the JCW version gives you more of the handling feel, but I think the marketing of the car is inline with the direction they have taken the brand.

    Granted, I’m a little late to the party, so I WANT the big ass speedometer in the center of the dash and don’t really care if it has CarPlay or not. My iPhone AppleWatch combo is more than sufficient (at least until I try it and find I can’t live without it, LOL). I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m a bit of an outlier from the core demographic MINI is targeting.

    Do I think changing the marketing is necessary — most definitely, but I can see why they took it in the direction that they did. I’m also curious what the marketing looks like in Europe where they are not seeing a decline compared to the US. Is it different, or is it just resonating with the rest of the world and not here in the US?

    On a side note… DB, you don’t seem to be as happy in your Gen 2 as you were in your Gen 1. Have you ever considering buying another Gen 1 to get back that loving feeling?

  4. There are two major arguments that stop me from looking for the new MINI:
    – I had my ’04 MCS for eight years and 180K km without any big issues exempt windows didn’t want to open in summer after parking on direct sunlight. My current ’10 JCW has 99K km now, three times change of the chain, oil leaks everywhere and dying fuel pump. So in terms of reliability the MINI brand is dead for me.
    – The second argument is more emotional, but nevertheless important. It’s design.

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