FAAR Away, So Close

A MINI MPV was mooted before. It wasn’t a flier then – it’s even less so now.

A MINI MPV – unthinkable? (c) smallblogv8/MWERKS

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

18 thoughts on “FAAR Away, So Close”

  1. Always pleased to see a photo of the Spirituals, so thanks for that.

    As to this piece of speculation from Autocrops, having seen their design image, it looks like they think the new Traveller would be based on the current i3, not the new one, although the words state the new-wave MPV will be FAAR based.

    Overall, I think the article says more about the state of Autocropley than the latest MINI, but the former editor of Car may yet have the last laugh.

  2. It’s quite interesting that those photos in your article were Mini rear engine design proposals and more recently VW had the same for the Lupo/Fox replacement that foresaw the Smart ForFour design of 2014/15. All ditched on cost grounds I believe. Interesting also that neither Smart or it’s sister car the Twingo have been successful, the Smart arguably because it’s perceived to be too expensive. My wife has a 90bhp Smart ForFour turbo which was bought new preregistered at a price that makes sense (25% discount) and I have to say it is a great city car with enough poke for the motorway. Plenty of space for the size. Issigonis and Setright would be impressed with the design I’m sure. I see production has now ceased and is now only available as an EV.

  3. There is the other half of the new MINI strategy – a new small car (inspired by the Rocketman concept from a few years ago) on a platform co-developed with Geely.

    So you would have a genuinely compact city car MINI, and a larger, space efficient MINI.

    It sounds like a good plan to me. Much better than an endless succession of ‘Mini-themed’ crossovers. Death to the SUV!

    1. Indeed Jacomo, I ran a piece on the subject of Rocketman’s putative revival quite recently. A genuinely compact Mini, well executed would be a marvellous development and I see no issue with the idea of a larger, more spacious MPV-esque model either. However, it’s very difficult to envisage how an MPV/ Minivan format could be commercially viable in the current climate, especially when product planners immediately default to what they see as growth sectors, and for Autocar to be positing this as a serious proposal is wishful thinking at best; somewhat akin to the piece they ran a number of years ago suggesting that a three volume Mini saloon was imminent. Still, I suppose it keeps the advertisers happy.

      Yes, perhaps Cowley considered such a model, but as we have seen, the fifth brand ‘Superhero’ turned out to be the electric Mini, which on balance was probably the right decision on their part. Ironically, I would suggest that a tough, rugged looking SUV based on Mini design cues would probably be more of a sales success, given the centre of gravity of the car market at the present moment, and despite the fact that I would deplore such a move on ideological grounds. Sadly, I would expect this to be a more likely outcome.

  4. I think that the speculation reflects BMW’s dilemma as to how to make MINI profitable as a stand-alone brand. Here’s Autocar’s rendering of a MINI saloon from a few years ago:

    Rather sleek, although what adult rear passengers were meant to do with their heads is unclear.

    1. Someone should tell BMW. Their Hoffmeister kink has been found, appended to a speculative notchback MINI proposal.

      I await Herr Butt’s comments on the new 4 series concept being unveiled in Frankfurt this week… I doubt they will be complimentary.

    2. The Hofmeister is redundant. BMW no longer require it on voyage – not where they’re going.

    3. My idea for a Mini saloon is more like Marc Newson´s 021C. I would simply add a boot to the back and keep the glasshouse profile as it is. It would make a virtue of the turret-like character of the boot. Autocar´s idea is predictable: raked rear screen. It doesn´t look at all like a Mini either.

    4. Your wish is my command, Richard:

      Actually, it works, in a Riley Elf / Wolseley Hornet kind of way.

      Then there’s this, the product of an unholy union between a Clubman and Saab 9-5:

      which doesn’t.

  5. Rocketman (would they have issues using that name on a production car?) may not be quite dead; BMW may watch the fortunes of the Honda E with interest. Starting from £26k post-grant, which is £11.5k more than the Jazz, and is a higher starting point than Civic and HRV. If the numbers work for that, surely other manufacturers would be interested in having a go.

  6. Well, if the same lamebrains at BMW who showed the new 4 series junk at Frankfurt are responsible for a new MINI, it’s game over. What is going on with the 4-Series? An even more giant schnoz of a twin kidney grille up front, and an Elmer Fudd face style of wrinkled bumper excresence each side at the rear – Bugs Bunny would laugh his **** off. When better photographs are available, will the ugly duckling transform into a glorious swan in my mind? Unlikely. These people have lost the plot entirely.

    Meanwhile, we’ve just come back on line both electricity and internet after Hurricane Dorian hit Nova Scotia head on this past Saturday afternoon. Nasty. On the other hand, I’ve never received so many compliments on any new car I’ve bought in the last fifty years as my new Titanium Mica Mazda6 turbo. Has quite surprised me what with the crossover craze and all, and it’s women who really like it. It’s vastly overpowered for a FWD car, which adds to the need for a delicate touch and a new experience in driving management I enjoy, yet has averaged 8.4l/100km over the two tanks so far, mostly hurtling around suburban streets. That’s about 33.5 mpg. Not bad for a petrol of this size, and about a third better than my old Subaru. Real progress.

    BMW should book a visit to the Mazda design studios, and send the MINI styling minions along as well. They might well learn something in the name of taste, if not space utilization.

    1. Just in case anyone hasn’t seen it and is wondering what BMW might have done now to annoy Bill so much, here’s the new 4 Series concept, unveiled at Frankfurt:

      The grille is now way beyond caricature and the rest is a wild, incoherent mess. Of course, it’ll be toned down for production, so expect a dull, incoherent mess instead.

      Tragic.

    2. BMW’s identity crisis is lurching towards a point where a therapeutic intervention is not only desirable, but urgent. But in a similar manner to that of a loved one in acute distress, it does them no good to pander to their unhinged desires. BMW desperately want to be talked about, to elicit controversy and debate. It’s by far the most compassionate thing to deny them this, as to do otherwise only fuels their addiction.

      Call it tough love, if you will…

  7. Back to the main topic, Autocar’s editor, Mark Tisshaw reporting from Frankfurt yesterday, spoke to MINI-chief Bernd Körber about his business’ plans for product expansion. Alongside his aspiration to build a genuinely compact MINI-branded vehicle, Körber suggested that while “it would be hard to imagine a Mini the size of a BMW X3 or X5”, he envisages the necessity “to address the growth in SUVs and look at if we need a compact SUV”, larger than the existing Countryman model. “We will look at a compact SUV in the next generation.”

    So much for Mr. G.Kable’s prognostications then. It was always going to be a CUV – anyone could see that…

    1. https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/new-cars/mini-shrink-flagship-hatch-and-launch-traveller-crossover

      Autocar is now throwing shade on its original story.

      Discussions with Geely are ‘at an early stage’, the mooted Rocketman may or may not include 5 door and cabriolet versions, and they really want to make a MINI SUV bigger than the Countryman.

      All this suggests MINI is chasing market segments and not focusing on compelling product. I can see the sense in a compact, high quality hatchback and a more spacious family car like the bigger Spiritual concept. But that is probably not what we will get.

  8. Daniel:
    Thanks for the renderings. The blue one is not exactly as I expect. Today I looked at the current three door, particularly the area between glasshouse and boot. I felt or intuited that around there some work might be needed to revise the angle of the rear screen and possibly on the lead-in surfaces that the boot “grows” from. The rear axle could need to be relocated. Leaving it where it is would most likely not go over.

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