When BMW acquired Mg Rover in 1994, the focus of the deal was the Rover and Land Rover brands. Eighteen years later, and ten years in the U.S., Mini, for now, is the only piece left from that deal and the only piece some key executives at BMW wanted in the first place.
The idea was for the storied Munich-based automaker to acquire Rover and turn it into a stronger mass-market brand in Europe, and introduce it to the U.S. This would allow BMW to concentrate in the luxe end of the business. Land Rover was to be BMW's foray into SUVs because the thinking then was that BMW could not spawn SUVs under its own brand. That was before the X5 was on the road and proving those naysayers wrong.
Mini was garnish in the deal. There were a few BMW execs who believed it could be revived under BMW's crack product development team. "Really, all I wanted out of that deal was Mini, because I thought it was a perfect compliment to BMW," said Wolfgang Reitzle, Technical Director at BMW when the deal was done. "But there was no way we could get Mini without taking the other big problems," Reitzle said in interviews for AOL Autos editor-in-chief David Kiley's 2004 book: Driven: Inside BMW, The Most Admired Car Company in the World.
BMW lost billions trying to fix Rover and Land Rover before jettisoning them in 1999. The ill-conceived acquisition roiled the culture of BMW and eventually cost chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder and Reitzle their jobs.
Mini remains a fixture at BMW, selling in excess of 57,000 vehicles last year in the U.S. and many more worldwide.
Rover was given away to a British private equity firm to wind down. Land Rover was eventually sold to Ford, and is now owned by Indian automaker Tata. Mini remains a fixture at BMW, selling in excess of 57,000 vehicles last year in the U.S. and many more worldwide. Mini (It's actually MINI officially, having gone to all capitol letters under BMW), has pretty much maxed out its Oxford, England capacity for now, and builds the Countryman crossover in Austria.
BMW also acquired the rights to the Riley, Triumph and Austin-Healey brands in the deal. There is chatter that BMW may do something with the Triumph name and maybe even Riley. When then-chairman Pischetsrieder asked then-Ford Europe chief Sir Nick Scheele what he thought of the potential of those three brands before inking the deal, the former Ford exec responded, "Frankly, I would give a tuppance for the lot of them." BMW proved them wrong on Mini, so maybe there is life in Triumph and Riley too.
This month AOL Autos, our sister website, is giving away a 2012 MINI Countryman. All you need to do is "Like" AOL Autos on Facebook and fill out a quick questionnaire (click here to enter). Jeff Sabatini assembled a gallery to take you through Mini's beginnings some fifty years ago to the lineup the company presents today, which you can check out here if you need more motivation to enter.