We sat down with Mini product chief Ralph Mahler to talk future plans and the new JCW Clubman.
Mini didn’t make too much noise at the 2016 Paris Motor Show, but it did debut a new model, the John Cooper Works Clubman. However, just because the brand isn’t going crazy with auto show reveals doesn’t mean it’s not got a lot going on. It had its best sales year ever in 2015 and is looking to keep that momentum going in 2016. It’s also plotting a fifth model and planning to enter the eco-friendly car fray. Mini has a lot on its agenda, and to find out more about what’s in the works we sat down with product chief Ralph Mahler for a chat.
We called the Clubman S “our last best hope in keeping crossovers from completely taking over our roads” when we drove it a few months back. However, that ridiculously long title now belongs to the souped-up JCW Clubman. JCW cars are known for performance, but the Clubman’s calling card is its practicality and size. So where does Mahler see the new model fitting in? “Within the segment of compact performance cars, it’s the best compromise. It’s not a complete sports car and it’s not a complete practical car. It serves both in my opinion,” Mahler said. Even a casual industry observer can see that Mini’s cars are growing in size. So how does Mini maintain its fun-to-drive identity as its cars get ever bigger?
“Mini as a brand has some kind of a promise due to its name. Right from the beginning [of development] we have a requirements list. Heritage decision, go-kart feeling—everything that’s in the Mini genes is written down. But obviously go-kart feeling in a three-door hatch is slightly different than go-kart feeling in a Clubman or Countryman,” Mahler explained. He used the Countryman as an example, saying that while it doesn’t handle as good as the three-door Cooper it does offer a more go-kart like feel than other SAVs (sports activity vehicles). The Clubman is the fourth model in Mini’s lineup, and the automaker will add a fifth under its "five superheroes" plan. Mahler was mum on the new model's identity but did say it would need worldwide appeal.
“When we grow business we want to do it worldwide. We’re not going into some niches but we do need to differentiate it from the different characters. The worldwide success story should be continued,” he said. Since "some niches" are off the table, and with two-door Minis being killed left and right, we believe the fifth car will be a four-door. Our bet is on a small sedan. We loved the Rocketman and Superleggera concepts but both are too similar to existing models and it’s hard to make a global business case for each. As such it seems that it'll only be a matter of time before a four-door sedan is announced. But how big would a Mini sedan be?
When asked if there was a size line the company wouldn’t cross we were told that there’s a possibility to go bigger than the Clubman (its longest model). “Personally, the compact segment is where our heart should belong to and where our history is. That’s something we should always keep in mind. I’m not saying it’s not possible to go a bit bigger, though,” Mahler stated.