Mini: "The 500 is a darling little car... but we're a premium brand"

Mini showed off the Paceman Concept at this year's Detroit Auto Show and announced not long afterward that it would spawn a production model. Tom Salkowski, who recently moved from BMW USA to Mini USA to fill the role of marketing manager, will be the man charged with getting the word about about Mini's eighth model and the ones beyond. Here's what he had to tell us.
  • The small car segment has erupted over the past couple of years and "Mini has prospered" even though it "faced significantly more competition." But when asked what kind of head-to-head competitors the brand thinks it faces, Salkowski said "maybe Volkswagen, Mazda, Scion in the small-car segment," with the caveat that since "Mini is very much a mindset, it's different than other vehicles," so "for the time being we don't see anything." Head of product management Oliver Friedmann confirmed the assessment with, "We don't see any one-to-one competition, maybe the Evoque could be" for the Countryman.
  • Salkowski offered his thoughts on the Fiat 500 with, "The 500 is a darling little car, but Mini is a premium brand."
  • On the discussion of roots and heritage at other emotional brands like BMW and Lotus, when asked how big the Mini brand and Mini cars could get and still be considered Minis, Friedmann said, "That's what we try to find out at the moment. We just jumped over the four-meter line with the Countryman," but reaction in the three months that the crossover has been on sale in Europe has been "very positive."
  • Nevertheless, it's not about creating an acceptance of a Mini of any size. Friedman said, "The competitors for the Countryman are significantly larger. We will always stay the smallest in the segment." But the number one rejection of Mini is due to size and space, so the company had to do something.
  • Mini's been known for its irreverent advertising, and it doesn't sound like much will change under Salkowski, with a "bigger spend on television – you only get one chance to launch a car." There will also be a huge billboard in Times Square, and a take-off on Mini's original U.S. launch when they had a roving Ford Excursion driving around with a Mini on its roof. This time it will be a roving Countryman with a vintage Mini, Alec Issigonis' original, on its roof.

Mini Paceman Concept
Mini Paceman Concept
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Live photos copyright ©2011 Jeremy Korzeniewski / AOL

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