Mini has no active plan to develop anything smaller than its cornerstone hatch — and closer to the iconic 1950/60s original that everyone knows and loves — because the business case doesn’t add up in today’s landscape.
However, the BMW-owned company concedes that the ever-growing hatch “shouldn’t get any bigger” than the current third-generation F56 iteration, which is about 20cm longer than the first reborn model from 2001, and 80cm or so longer than the ‘60s models.
While something badged Mini and akin to Mercedes-Benz’s Smart cars might make perfect sense on the face of it, reality seems to dictate that it wouldn’t be profitable. Ergo, romance can take a hike.
“The F56, overall the core of our brand DNA, probably shouldn't get bigger I agree, but I wouldn’t right now envision a car getting 20cm shorter [either],” says Mini’s Munich-based global senior vice-president, Sebastien Mackensen.
Mackensen was in Australia for a flying visit last week to talk with dealers and local Mini staff, based at BMW Australia’s HQ in Melbourne. Mini Australia’s sales are up 6 per cent this year, and grew almost 30 per cent in July, so he ought to be happy.
“You know, in the very end also we are in a business and you have to develop the car, and if it is smaller the customer expectation would be that this smaller size would apply to the price as well,” he later added.
“And this squeezes more air out of the system because it’s actually not necessarily cheaper to develop a smaller car. You might use less metal but you still have the same propulsion technology, the same safety tech, and it makes it really hard to get to a positive case there.”
The cost issues are in large part down to the brand’s UKL modular architecture, to underpin up to 12 BMW and 10 Mini models over the coming years. That architecture cannot house any car shorter than 3.8m. And BMW/Toyota's global joint-venture? No update as to how it could help here.
Mackensen also said that making a tiny car to meet modern safety requirements — any BMW subsidiary can hardly perform below average — was a huge challenge. Ditto accommodating the fact that people physically are growing with each generation.
All of this means that a product like the famous 3.4m long Mini Rocketman concept from 2011 (above) is still a mile from production reality, despite being the subject of every Mini executive interview under the sun.
However, the company has left the door slightly ajar — and with it, let a glimmer of hope gleam through the crack — that a tiny new range-opener could materialise down the track as an electric car, given the vastly different packaging constraints and cost pressures.
“On the Rocketman side, there’s one thing to consider: that shouldn’t be a message like ‘Rocketman yes’… but if you think into electric mobility, the future, it might have the potential to change your requirements for space, for example in the front where today the engine block is,” Mackensen speculated.
Mini will launch its first EV in 2019, and while that car will be the same size as the F56, it’ll be interesting to see in what direction the brand goes from 2020 onwards.