Monday, December 17, 2007

MINI: the pleasure of accessible luxury

Next to the Hummer, the juggernaut I mentioned in several October and November 2007 columns, the MINI is Lilliputian. How can one not love its friendly face; according to surveys conducted by MINI Canada in 2007, its appearance is the most important factor in the purchase decision. Its remarkable sobriety, thanks to its 1.6 litre engine, is also very appealing (Note: Unless otherwise specified, all information about the MINI, slogans and advertising arguments cited are taken from the MINI’s Canadian website, consulted August 16 2007) ; in fact, it’s eligible to a $1,000 rebate from the ecoAUTO rebate program created by the Canadian government in 2006 (ecoAUTO Web site, consulted August 16 2007). This is another advantage, since the MINI buyer is price-sensitive; polls show that this factor is the second in order of importance (Note: this information is taken from survey results obtained from MINI Brossard whom I thank for its collaboration).

However, its sobriety does not prevent it from featuring a sporty behaviour, compared to that of a kart. Having performed a road test, I can vouch that this claim is not misleading; it’s easy for me to compare, since I drive a Honda CB900F, a nervous and agile motorcycle, now renamed the 919. I am not the only one to love the MINI: «Even in its wildest dreams, BMW could not expect any better: 800,000 units of the Mini produced in five years. That’s 700,000 more than the Bavarian manufacturer estimated when launching this model». (É. Lefrançois, « Mini Cooper S, Évoluer sans révolutionner », La Presse, July 16 2007, cahier L’auto, p. 10)

The company has found a market segment, which consists of people from all age groups, as evidenced by the polls, willing to pay slightly more to get a fun car. The manufacturer did not seek to solve a lower revenue problem by selling a more expensive product, but deliberately targeted a slightly higher-end market after having verified its existence. I don’t think we can accuse the company of chasing chimeras. For BMW, owner of the brand, it is a product line descent strategy; this strategy can be harmful for a brand, as selling lower priced products can affect the image of a luxury brand. Such is not the case here, since BMW protects its image by selling the MINI under another banner, with a unique logo and a dealer network independent from BMW’s.

The MINI personality, or «MINI Concept», articulates around driving pleasure: «Never has holding a steering wheel been so much fun». A wide range of accessories, some of which are very inexpensive, allow the buyer to customize his MINI, which in itself is another pleasure, because some form of exclusivity is one the attractions of luxury.

Its selling price starting at more than $ 25000, MINI is a luxury car, popular that is, not upper end. A form of luxury accessible to a large number of middle class people, sufficient to give one pleasure, without making a hole in one’s wallet. Obviously, it is beyond the reach of the poor. Some may accuse me of using the term «accessible» for a car sells for $ 25,900 and more. As absurd as this may seem, $ 25,900 is a price that most vehicles offered to the middle class today can reach, indeed exceed, except for some sub-compacts.

The brand’s personality, its image and its correspondence with the prospective buyer’s self-image may influence the choice of a vehicle. The values of society and the dominant concerns of the moment can also promote the adoption of a vehicle, for instance, the high price of gasoline and the hype surrounding the Kyoto Protocol are positive influences for the purchase of a vehicle featuring lesser consumption and pollution levels, such as MINI.

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