MINI Traveler Concept: Laughing All the Way to the Bank
If I hear another auto executive say that the B Segment is about explode I think I’m going to climb into the clock tower. The business plan goes like this. Exploding fuel prices will force all right thinking individuals to jettison their gluttonous SUVs and sprint down to the auto dealership to purchase more economical vehicles. Further increasing the prospects for success is a waiting herd of Gen Y new car buyers who are dying to drive a brand new cramped penalty box. The reasons that neither of these will happen are obvious. The former group needs utility and the later group needs cash.
While we will certainly get an increase of offerings in the segment, fuel prices and a demographic subset will not be the reasons for success for any entry into this segment. Unlike Europe, the US is not dominated by six-dollar gallons of gas and streets designed for horses. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) research indicate the B Segment will only grow if a large portion of its entries fit the bill for US consumer acceptance.
The success of MINI in the US has led many to think that the segment is ripe, and that recent spikes in fuel prices are bound to give it stellar growth. The evidence is clear, however, MINI has succeeded with product. Product that inspires passion. Go figure. You only need to look at the Toyota Echo to understand why even B Segment buyers want some passion.
MINI has also identified that fact that there are only so many middle aged buyers who will pay 40% more for a vehicle that lacks the basic utility needed for everyday use. Passion starts the fire. The mind then takes over.
What will add to the prospects for this segment are vehicles that squeeze as much utility as possible into the sheet metal of a vehicle that inspires passion. Enter, the MINI Traveler Concept.
MINI rolled out the US version of the popular Traveler concept at the North American International Auto show in Detroit. The concept had previously shown in Frankfurt and Tokyo last year. The Detroit concept is similar to the previous versions, except it uses a winter sports theme, with ski racks and a nifty storage compartment covering the right rear side window.
Launched in 1960, the original MINI Traveler, and Austin Seven Countryman took the winning combination of no-frills fun and added the element of utility. 400,000 units were sold between 1960 and 1982. The new MINI traveler aims to add the same utility to the Cooper, albeit with a few frills that are necessary in today’s marketplace.
In brief, the concept goes like this. Take a Cooper S, stretch it about three inches, add a unique sliding cargo box, sliding side windows, and a barn door to replace the liftgate.
The concept keeps the charm of the original, but adds a sense of stoutness that gives the vehicle a more masculine appearance. No B Pillars give the estate a coupe like appearance and aid in ingress/egress. All four doors (side and “barn”) use parallelogram kinetic joints that allow them the swing booth open and away from the vehicle to improve ingress. The rear side windows slide fore and aft electronically. (So much for no frills) Rear seats fold flat into the floor, creating an SUV-like cargo area. (It’s a shame the 2007 Tahoe couldn’t step up to the plate with this, soon to be mandatory, feature.)
Like the current MINI, the interior includes some cheeky elements. The instrument panel appears to float above the floor, and from driver and passenger seats float above the floor and swivel.
MINI has sold more than 700,000 vehicles since launch in March of 2002. The US accounts for 140,000 MINI owners, almost 60% of whom opted for the S model, giving even more support to the theory that “premium” is a key element of the MINI brand in the US.
Mini claims the new model will make it to the US within the next three years. Will the product plan include the barn doors? Let’s hope so, as utility should not be reserved for SUVs.