NEW YORK - Time is running out for BMW to sign up US dealers for the Mini franchise.
'Time is pretty short,' said Richard Steinberg, Mini program manager for BMW of North America Inc.
BMW will reintroduce the Mini Cooper model to the USA in early 2002.
The British brand was sold in the USA from 1960 to 1967.
BMW expects nostalgic 'baby boomers' who remember the original Mini to account for most of the initial demand. Over time, it hopes to attract a trendier crowd of affluent, 20- to 34-year-olds.
US sales targets are modest - only about 20,000 units during the first full year. It will carry a base price below $18,000 (E19,900). BMW plans to add more Mini models, such as a high-performance version, and possibly a convertible. The first US model will have a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine, smaller than anything else in the BMW's US lineup.
Helmut Panke, the BMW AG board member responsible for finance, sales and marketing, agreed the new Mini is aimed primarily at Europe and Asia. 'You only have to look at the volume,' Panke said. Worldwide volume is expected to be about 100,000 units a year.
The Mini is supposed to broaden the appeal of the BMW lineup, without diluting the BMW brand. The Mini's other strategic mission is to help BMW meet its 'vountary' fleet average fuel-consumption targets, in advance of tougher regulation by the European Community.
BMW of North America wants to pick about 70 Mini dealers from among its 340 BMW dealers by year end. But the company only started soliciting formal proposals from dealers on September 1.
US dealers must provide a separate, exclusive Mini showroom, with dedicated sales people, said Tom Purves, chairman of BMW (US) Holding Corp. and president of BMW of North America. Back office functions may be shared with a parent BMW dealership, he said.
The worldwide public debut for the all-new Mini will be at the Paris auto show on September 28.
The US market gets only the Mini Cooper. In other markets, there also will be a basic Mini, although the Mini Cooper will be launched first. The car will go onsale in Europe and Asia in mid-2001. The USA will follow in early 2002.
'Your initial reaction may be, 1/8Americans want big sport-utilities; they don't want this economy car,'' Steinberg said. 'Americans may be used to bigger cars, but a niche market doesn't mean no market.'