DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- The soft U.S. economy hasn't proved a deterrent for BMW's Mini, which is introducing a flurry of new models this year.
Mini USA was one of only two auto brands to tally year-over-year sales increases in the U.S. last year (the other was Subaru of America). Mini sold 54,077 cars in the U.S. in 2008, a 28% jump over the 42,045 units it sold in 2007, according to Automotive News. Of course, the brand isn't immune to the economy. In the first two months of this year, it U.S. sales slipped 16% to 4,908 units -- though Automotive News said Mini's U.S. market share increased to 0.4% from 0.3% during that time frame.
Wolfgang Armbrecht, senior VP-brand management at Mini's global headquarters in Europe, said the brand sold out its convertible model last October, which is one reason the line saw sales slide early this year in the U.S. and elsewhere. He added that China is Mini's most stable market, because the U.S. and Europe are being hit with what he called "negative influences."
Global launch this week
Still, he said he's optimistic about the marque's future, beginning with this week's global launch of the second-generation convertible, along with the John Cooper Works version of the soft-top and the Mini One, the more affordable version of the small car, which is available mostly in Europe. Next year, it also plans to introduce its biggest model ever, a crossover that will be the brand's first vehicle to offer all-wheel-drive.
Mini's biggest current model is the Clubman, at 13 feet long, or 9.45 inches longer than the Mini car. The U.S. is the biggest global market for the Clubman, which accounts for more than a quarter of all Mini's U.S. sales, Mr. Armbrecht said.
Todd Turner, president of consultant CarConcepts, said he doesn't expect Mini to maintain the momentum it enjoyed in 2008 in the U.S. this year. He said he expects the new convertible to sell well globally, but Mini's restricted capacity means the company will send more units to the most profitable markets, which may not be the U.S. The good news for the niche brand, Mr. Turner said, is it doesn't have to reach the mass market, so it can focus its marketing very tightly to its target.
Mini's second-generation convertible, the R57 Cabrio, hits showrooms this week and will be backed by a global ad blitz by Plantage, Berlin. It will continue the "Always Open" theme from the 2004 launch of the brand's first soft-top. The independent agency, which took on Mini's German account in 2006, said it won a global shootout for the R57 Cabrio against roster agencies including independent Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, Sausalito, Calif., and shops in England, Italy and Japan.
Mr. Armbrecht said Mini's five agencies collectively agreed that the German agency would do the work. A Mini USA spokeswoman said the brand will use two of the six TV spots created by Plantage, "Heritage" and "Duel". Mini USA did tap Butler Shine to create out-of-home boards, a magazine gatefold that opens vertically and online executions for the U.S. alone.
John Butler, a partner at the Sausalito shop, said, "Launching a new vehicle in a down economy is challenging, so we relied on the Mini heritage as a marketer of utilizing intrusive media with high impact." He said much of the convertible's U.S. launch is based around the "Openometer," the name the agency recommended for a standard device on the car's dash that keeps track of how long the top is down. Mini USA bought units on web-radio site Pandora featuring musical mixes based on different weather conditions and banners showing the use of the "Openometer."