Mini plans a major adventure
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
The BMW-owned brand is set to make a big impression on the van market with its stylish new re-invention of an iconic model. James Dallas reports.
It’s shaping up to be a busy year for Mini. The BMW-owned brand is celebrating a centenary of vehicle manufacturing at the Oxford plant it now owns, just as its Oxford-built first commercial vehicle is starting to cut a chic dash through the traditionally conservative van sector.
The Mini Clubvan is the first LCV to carry the legendary Mini badge since the original Morris Mini Van, launched at the dawn of the ‘swinging sixties’, was finally retired in 1983. The Clubvan is a worthy successor to its iconic predecessor and its combination of style, panache and small van practicality saw it capture the Editor’s Choice prize in the 2013 What Van? Awards.
Dave Tuckett, Mini’s product and planning manager, says of the award: “We are new into the segment so an accolade like this is incredible. It shows we have credibility and that the product should fit the marketplace we’re aiming at.”
Dubbed by the manufacturer as the world’s first premium compact delivery van, the Mini is aimed primarily upmarket, at urban operators who want a van to reflect its style and sophistication onto their businesses and to highlight the discernment of its customers.
“The Clubvan is very much aimed at small business users,” says Tuckett, “independents, not big fleet buyers, who want to display their business as premium quality – to match their brand with our premium brand.” He expects customers to use livery to transform vans into advertising hoardings for their businesses.
While the Clubvan has obviously brought something new to the small van sector in providing a prestige alternative to more humdrum commercials, Tuckett identifies the car-derived Ford Fiesta Van and Vauxhall Corsavan as its most natural competitors. With almost 3200 sales in 2012, he says the Ford van is the key player but insists Mini would not offer discount deals on the Clubvan in an attempt to drive up volume to similar levels.
Tuckett says: “We are not trying to overtake the Fiesta Van. We are not looking at fleet deals with significant money off. If we get close to the Corsavan [around 1500 registrations in 2012] we would be delighted.”
The Clubvan has a starting price of £11,175, excluding VAT, which is more expensive than its rivals but Mini has no intention of getting into a price war. In fact, customers are encouraged to dip into the wealth of optional extras, which can drive the price up to within sight of £20,000. But with a payload capacity of 500kg and load volume of 0.9m3, Tuckett says the Clubvan’s load-lugging credentials closely match those of its rivals, proving that its virtues include practicality as well as prestige.
Another plus point is its frugality. The Cooper D, for example, achieves fuel economy of 72.4mpg on the combined cycle, according to Mini, alongside CO2 of 103g/km. All Clubvans come with standard Minimalism efficiency features such as stop/start, gearshift indicator and brake-energy regeneration to make fuel go further.
Owners can also be confident the Clubvan will more than hold its own at remarketing time.
“The RV prognosis is really strong,” says Tuckett, who claims used value analyst Cap Monitor has forecast the Mini’s Residual value will be up to 10% better than the Fiesta Van’s and 14% higher than those of the Corsavan. When all these factors are considered the whole-life costs appear more attractive.
Another strength Tuckett is keen to emphasise is Mini’s “hugely strong heritage” and the record sales of its passenger cars, which reached 51,000 in 2012. A bespoke network of almost 150 dealerships supports the brand.
“We have a good, solid foundation with unique brand values,” he says. “Mini is always fun and exciting.” But he stresses the Clubvan’s versatility, highlighting robust build quality that ensures it can be put to rugged uses as well as serving customers such as florists who want to use it for short-hop delivery work. He says it will also appeal to tradespeople who have their bulky material delivered directly to site and use their vehicle to carry their tools.
“We want to provide a proper CV with full type approval and VAT exemption,” says Tuckett.
The Clubvan is available in three derivatives – the entry-level Mini One gets a 98hp 1.6 petrol engine and the Cooper gets power output from the same engine upped to 122hp. The flagship Cooper D Clubvan comes with a 112hp 1.6 diesel drivetrain.
The Cooper D will dominate sales, accounting for about 70% of volume, while at the other end of the scale the petrol-powered Cooper will take just 2%, leaving 28% of customers opting for the Mini One Clubvan. Tuckett claims this is a far higher percentage of petrol engines in the mix than is the case with the Fiesta Van. He reckons buyers opting for petrol models will cover fewer miles than diesel van customers and welcomes the predicted popularity of petrol versions because, he says, they are cheaper to make.
On the other hand he admits customers choosing the Mini One Clubvan would be less likely than Cooper D buyers to purchase option packs, such as the £1340 Media Pack or the £975 Pepper Pack.
Mini has no plans at the moment to expand its van line-up with, for example, a commercial vehicle version of the Countryman, due to the costs such a move would incur for such a low-volume project.
“We want to monitor the segment first. It would be a massive investment to make a pick-up version, for example,” Tuckett says, who reckons such a bodystyle would sell only a third of the 1000 units conservatively estimated per year for the Clubvan.
The Mini Clubvan has undoubtedly upped the style stakes in the LCV market but its functionality and performance prove it has the substance to make its mark.