BMW's £100m boost for Mini as sales accelerate

THE massive sales success of the rejuvenated Mini was confirmed yesterday when BMW announced it was to pump an extra £100 million into increasing production of the car at its Oxford factory.

Since the new design was launched in 2001, the Mini, a British favourite in its earlier form, has become a global phenomenon, with 70 per cent being exported to the United States and continental Europe - and with demand outstripping supply.

The Oxford plant was initially expected to make 100,000 cars a year but production reached nearly 190,000 last year.

According to Pat Barker, tutor in industrial design at Coventry University - which runs an acclaimed car design course and whose students worked on the new Mini - the reason for this popularity is that BMW has captured the appeal of the original version.

"It manages to embody the character of the original design and yet is, to all intents and purposes, a completely different car," he said.

"It has some of the original lines, like the bonnet and the sheer back, but it’s more to do with the cheekiness of the form, the ‘smiling face’ of the front grille, that I think really endears people to it.

"It’s not a small car at all really. It has the same footprint as a [Land Rover] Freelander and its entry cost is very high, unlike the original version, which was very much a budget car."

As well as his academic interest in the car, Mr Barker owns and races Minis, both old and new. He said:

"Both have that go-cart feel. They’re a driving experience in the truest sense. They’re very nippy with a direct feel between the wheel and the road.

"Also, there is a huge range of personalisation possibilities in terms of livery and accessories, which is undoubtedly very attractive in these individualistic times.

"It really is a success story, given BMW’s problems when it bought out Rover. There were fears that the Mini would have zero sales."

Just like the old design, the new version has benefited from its celebrity devotees on both sides of the Atlantic, with the likes of Madonna, Sting, Meg Mathews, Rachel Hunter, Andy Cole, Abi Titmuss and Elijah Wood all professing to love their Minis.

In the past four years two new models - a diesel and a soft-top - have been added to the initial Mini One, Mini Cooper and Cooper S range. The car is on sale in 73 countries.

For Adrian Jeffery, creative director with the Edinburgh advertising agency 1576, BMW has managed to tap into an enviable market.

"It is incredibly well made, and it embodies all the retro appeal of the old model - the chrome trim, racing stripes and leather steering wheel - but has the serious technical sophistication of 21st-century engineering," he said. "There was a massive latent demand for this sort of product. Also, the fact that BMW have managed to market this without using their own name was a boon. It stood purely on its own merits."

Andrew Everett, of Car Magazine, said the intrinsic character of the car was important. He said: "It has a shape that has a basic appeal. Even if there had never been the 1960s version, it would still be popular. Also the fact that it was built and designed in Britain makes it attractive, here and abroad."