A MINI MPV was mooted before. It wasn’t a flier then – it’s even less so now.
Blind faith can be a marvellous thing – at least for those within its cozy orbit. However, for those who exist outside of its environs, not only can it become somewhat irritating, but allowed to propagate unchallenged, can lead to all manner of unforeseen consequences. At the South West London offices of Haymarket Publishing’s storied automotive weekly, for instance, belief in unicorns seems not merely confined to their veteran editor-at-large, but in addition, there appears to be a mounting view that these fantastic beasts hail almost exclusively from Munich-Milbertshofen.
Brand-MINI, since its millennial reinvention under BMW, has been a success from a volume and image perspective, if not necessarily from a revenue-generating one. Last year, a little over 360,000 MINI branded motor cars found new owners (a way short of Cowley’s nominal capacity), an increasing amount of those being furthest removed from the guiding principles of Sir Alec Issigonis’ 1959 Sputnik. Indeed (and without raw data to back this up), I would suspect that five-door MINIs outsell their three-door equivalents – or at the very least will very shortly do so.
Matters therefore are not what they were and as buyers gravitate from two to four-doors and from hatchbacks to, well, tougher-looking, raised-height hatchbacks, a brand like MINI is having to cast a good deal of its once inviolate orthodoxies out with the bathwater. What is clear is that with volumes of this nature, coupled to pricing of the current magnitude, MINI simply won’t pay its way. Hence BMW management are in the throes of a significant realignment of their Oxfordshire offer, which will see that most British of car brands undergo its most radical shake-up since the beginning of the century.
In a recent piece of news-gathering (or wild speculation if you like), courtesy of Autocar, it is alleged that MINI are to develop an electric MPV model to debut around 2023 under the Traveller nameplate. According to Autocar’s German correspondent, Greg Kable, “The new Mini MPV has been conceived to appeal to family car buyers seeking greater levels of interior versatility and space than the existing Clubman and Countryman models”, begging the obvious question as to what the commercial purpose of the two aforementioned models might have been?
Believed to be underpinned by BMW’s latest modular multi-propulsion FAAR platform, the proposed MINI Traveller is speculated to be powered by a selection of IC/ hybrid power units and in pure-EV form, to be twinned with the putative replacement to BMW’s current i3 model.
But just a giddy minute here. Are there not a couple of fundamentals that are being, shall we say, ignored? The first and perhaps most profound of these is the current state of the Euro-MPV market, which should you, dear reader need to be reminded, lost a third of its volume in the first six months of 2019 alone. Such is the shrinkage within the segment, BMW, whose 2-Series Active/Gran Tourer sales fell 22.1% over the same period, have reportedly cancelled its replacement – a decision which is being echoed throughout the European industry.
The second relates to BMW’s i-programme, which is itself in the process of a fundamental realignment. The current i3, when it bows out in a couple of years, is not only speculated to be placed upon the all-singing FAAR platform, but the car itself will be, if the word from Munich is to be believed, a radically different machine; albeit only insofar as it will not only eschew the progressive carbon fibre body structure of the current car, but will take the form of something more akin to a crossover.
This being so, why would MINI’s product planners, designers and engineers go to the trouble of creating a significantly different machine, in a market sector which by all reliable accounts is in its death-throes?
Now of course, this is not to suggest that the MPV market will necessarily shrink to nothing, there will likely remain a modest market for such a versatile and genuinely intelligent vehicle format. But given the likely volumes and return on investment, it is far more likely that such offerings will be almost exclusively repurposed commercial vehicles, à la Kangoo or Berlingo, given that this is so much cheaper a route to market for most carmakers.
Certainly, it would be a brave product planner indeed who would envisage or support the development of a new purpose-built MPV model in the current landscape – and these are not people particularly noted for their bravery.
If Autocar is to be believed, BMW’s FAAR platform looks set to underpin everything from BMWs, to Land Rovers and even Jaguars. Who knows, perhaps Rolls Royce are working on a compact Cullinan as we speak; with matters as they are, it isn’t as FAAR-fetched as it might have once seemed.
But I shouldn’t be so cynical. It’s a bloody game, this auto-business – and especially so in the UK, anno 2019. But what useful purpose does Autocar’s increasingly feverish speculations serve, apart from shifting a few extra copies? So if you are one of the perhaps five people currently pawing the earth at the prospect of the putative MINI Traveller, I might politely suggest that you may be in for rather a lengthy wait.