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Mini sees major growth ahead in Australia

Space odyssey: Mini plans to stick to its roots as a premium brand specialising in compact cars, with an all-new city car heralded by the 2011 Rocketman concept still firmly on its agenda.

All-new city car and crossovers look set to feature in Mini brand’s future


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21 Oct 2019

THE head of Mini in Australia, Brett Waudby, sees solid growth ahead for the BMW-owned British brand, despite sales falling over the past couple of years and its heavy reliance on compact passenger cars when the market is shifting towards SUVs.


And in the longer term, Mr Waudby, who has overseen Mini Australia as general manager for the past 18 months after previously serving as the brand’s Munich-based area manager for the entire Asia-Pacific region (as well as South Africa and the Middle East), is confident the niche premium brand will maintain its relevance and thrive in the marketplace for decades to come.


Central to this will be Mini’s continued evolution in the modern era, with a sub-Countryman compact crossover reportedly in the pipeline – potentially marking a return of the Traveller nameplate – and an all-new city car ripe for electrification previewed way back in 2011 with the Rocketman concept.


A new generation of the all-important Mini Cooper hatch is also in the works – the fourth under BMW ownership – and due for release about 2022, bringing a major overhaul in areas including exterior design, packaging, safety, infotainment and powertrain (petrol and electric).


In an interview with GoAuto in Melbourne this month as Mini celebrated its 60th anniversary with a significant presence at the Motorclassica car show, Mr Waudby said he was unable to confirm any model expansion plans – including a mooted mid-size SUV, one size up from Countryman – but noted “there’s a team of brilliant people back in Munich and in the UK that I’m sure are investigating all options right now”.


“Our cars are compact but it would be wrong for us not to keep developing the brand. We’ve got to keep it Mini, and I’m sure that whatever they bring out will fit what we’re currently doing here (in Australia),” he said.


“Even for us here, we are outperforming our segments right now – the industry is off of its peaks compared to where it has been, but we are still going well.


“Mini is a brand people want here, regardless of what the size of the car is right now. Do we see an opportunity to bring out a bigger car? Well, you can see the bigger SUV segment is the one that’s really growing, but does it really fit our brand? And that’s what they’re currently looking at, I presume, in Munich.”


To the end of September, Mini sales in Australia are down 11.8 per cent to 2496 units and the brand has been heading towards its third successive annual decline after peaking at 3765 sales in 2016. Since then, it slipped 1.4 per cent in 2017 and a further 3.3 per cent last year, finishing on 3590 units.


However, as Mr Waudby was quick to emphasise, Mini sales did improve markedly last month with 260 units denoting a 42.1 per cent increase over September 2018. Positive returns were recorded by the hatch (138, +40.8%), cabrio (21, +23.5%) and Countryman (86, +79.2%), leaving only Clubman in arrears (15, -25.0%) ahead of a model changeover occurring in the coming weeks.


“Whilst the total market is down and everything else, we’re not having a bad year,” he said.


“We had a really good launch of our 60 Years (special editions), towards the end of this year we have the new Clubman arriving in the Cooper S and JCW, the new Countryman JCW … so we have opportunities still to be growing.


“And we have a lot to talk about next year – we have the electric (Cooper SE), we have the JCW GP, and towards the end of next year we also have some more new product.”


On the subject of a production version of the Rocketman concept, which could herald a reborn ‘Mini Minor’, Mr Waudby cautioned against suggesting it might be an “entry level” model but agreed that a premium (and electric) city car that would compete with the likes of Daimler’s Smart Fortwo would be a welcome addition to the range.


“This is what Mini is all about – right? – with the urban brand and (original designer) Alec Issigonis designed the car to be small but to have a lot of room inside. This is the DNA of Mini, this is what we keep doing and this is why we keep designing these things,” he said.


“And, sure, it was mentioned at the Frankfurt motor show that they are probably investigating a smaller Mini, but I couldn’t tell you anything about drivetrains or anything else because I’m sure it’s still in the phase of early adoption.”


Asked whether Mini had almost reached a ceiling in Australia as far as sales volume goes, particularly given the brand’s determination to protect DNA such as compact dimensions, Mr Waudby said he saw plenty of scope for growth as it focused on ever-changing inner-city lifestyles.


“Lifestyles are forever changing. Currently, everybody wants the bigger SUV and everything else, but you go back 10, 15 years ago, it wasn’t … Things are forever changing. Take a look outside. The inner cities are growing. Highrise (buildings) are going up, and people want mobility in the city. They don’t want big cars,” he said.


“We see plenty of opportunities out there, but we’re not just going to go out there and flood the market. As you know, Australia is probably one of the most competitive new-vehicle markets in the world.


“In my previous role back in Munich, I visited many markets and it always amazed me how well Mini actually does here considering how many brands there are.


“There are a lot of other brands that have come and gone. And we still, at Mini, have maintained what we do and that’s to offer a premium small car to our customers – and we won’t change that.


“So do I see opportunity for growth? Of course, absolutely, 100 per cent I do. But we won’t take growth at all costs.”


Mr Waudby declined to put a number of the potential number of cars Mini expected to sell in Australia going forward, saying the goal was “sustainable growth” and that issues such as government incentives for EVs would have a major impact.


“All we want to do is have sustainable growth that will keep us in this market for a very long time,” he said.


“We have a huge history here, the history of Mini here is absolutely massive, and it will continue to be that for the future.”

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