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Mini on the move

New era: One of the BMW Group's new Mini Garages in Melbourne.

BMW opens a multi-million dollar network of Mini Garages

Mini logo12 Nov 2001

By MARTON PETTENDY

TODAY'S opening of BMW's nationwide network of Mini Garages is the first step in the creation of an entirely new Mini family.

In what is being described as the start of a new era for the BMW Group in Australia, the company is now taking orders for its second premium brand through 23 Mini Garages in all metropolitan and major regional centres.

BMW says its third new brand, Rolls Royce, will become an integral part of its plan to become the world's most successful premium vehicle producer when it comes under BMW control on January 1, 2003.

Mini was released in two specifications levels in the UK during July, and the Cooper version's Australian release next March will co-incide with Mini's US launch.

Just a few months later the 120kW Mini Cooper S will make its international and Australian debuts, and BMW Australia says supply constraints will limit Mini deliveries to about 1700 units in 2002.

Representing a multi-million dollar investment by BMW and its dealers, at least five Mini Garages will be located in Sydney, with Melbourne getting four, Brisbane two and Adelaide and Perth one each. Other centres to get a Mini Garage include Canberra, the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Geelong, Wollongong and Townsville, with a new Hobart premises due to open next year.

BMW says it received more applications to open Mini Garages from existing BMW dealers than could be accepted and while metropolitan centres are required to have separate Mini showrooms, rural outlets will be required to provide "a unique Mini environment".

Each Mini Garage will showcase the Mini lifestyle clothing range as well as display UK-spec cars, for the time being.

All retail outlets will also have a dedicated Mini sales consultant, although service and other back-room operations will be shared with BMW.

Today's opening of the Mini Garage network will coincide with a new magazine, newspaper and billboard advertising campaign.

National Mini manager Shawn Ticehurst said dealers had already taken around 200 Mini orders, mainly from males, but that this would not be representative of Australian customers, who are likely to be "25 to 40 year-old young-at-hearts" or purchasers of a second vehicle.

"We expect many Mini buyers to be young, professional trendsetters," he said.

"For them Mini will be more than just transport and we don't see any erosion to 3 Series Compact because they're totally different product concepts." Mr Ticehurst said many Mini buyers would be former owners of small SUVs, plus Volkswagens and Peugeots, along with a host of sub-$30,000 Japanese sports cars like the Toyota Paseo.

BMW general manager corporate communications John Kananghinis said the four-month gap until deliveries began would allow BMW time to build the Mini brand in Australia, which for many buyers would be the entry point to BMW Group products.

He admitted it would be a challenge to sell Mini as a premium product, but said Mini could not be compared with other retro products like VW's New Beetle and Chrysler's PT Cruiser.

"Mini is a source of enormous history and tradition, and now it's the product of BMW's legendary engineering," he said.

"The failure of Beetle doesn't worry us - in fact, we see it as an opportunity.

"Beetle doesn't have the individual product substance. We didn't take compact running gear and plonk another body on it. Mini is engineered from the ground up to be the car Mini would have become if it still existed.

"The original Mini might not have been a premium vehicle, but the new Mini is engineered by BMW, sets new small-car standards for safety, offers unique technology, is highly equipped and will come with all the traditional BMW values like technical and after-sales support.

"The new Mini has a level of technology, sophistication and safety that is unsurpassed in the small car segment, and doesn't share its components with any lesser cars." At $32,650 in five-speed manual guise, Mini will compete on price with Peugeot's 206 GTi and the Renault Clio Sport - cars that lack the Mini's build quality, according to BMW.

BMW officials are adamant Mini is a long-term brand for the Munich car-maker, as evidenced by the high cost of developing the three-door hatch's exclusive front-drive platform.

As such, the current three-door hatch is only the beginning of the Mini brand.

"Mini is here to stay," Mr Ticehurst said.

"It fills a market niche other BMW Group products can't and there are plenty of extensions to the brand available.

"We're not going down the retro path, so we don't need to build new versions of old cars. They could never have got away with a four-door Mini, for example. A station wagon is another obvious choice, and a convertible Mini would be nice some day too.

"Of course, we could have done Mini a lot more cheaply, but the investment represents a long-term plan and the confidence to build the Mini brand into a complete range." Mr Ticehurst said the UK's entry level Mini One model was discounted from Mini's initial Australian launch, but that acceptance of the 66kW base model would be made easier once the Mini brand was established here.

If sold here, Mini One would represent a high $20,000 entry point to BMW Group vehicles, while the forthcoming rear-drive 1 Series will fill the gap between an eventual Mini family and the 3 Series Compact.

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