Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Get Motoring -- While BMW has been hailed for brilliantly executing the revival of the Mini, a look at another resurrected British classic -- Triumph motorcycles -- demonstrates how BMW probably has not taken full advantage of what they (re)created. While BMW has gotten good mileage out of the Mini Cooper model, it has not capitalized on the brand it created.

What is remarkable is not just the success of the Mini Cooper, but how the combination of the actual car and the marketing of the car have created, practically overnight, a distinct brand identity: the friendly hipness of the Let's Motor campaign. The campaign is not fungible. It would have fallen flat on its face without the charming Mini Cooper. But, and here's where BMW is missing an opportunity, the brand identity could easily extend beyond the current Mini and its variants and apply to a broader line of thematically similar cars.

The answer is not, as suggested by photos in this months Automobile photo gallery, taking the physical Mini and stretching, twisting, and jacking-up into an SUV model, a coupe model, etc. Better to take the Mini brand and create a clean-sheet SUV, coupe, etc. that share the Let's Motor gene with just the minimum physical resemblance to the Mini.

Triumph is a great case study.

The current incarnation of the Triumph motorcycle company started with a modern Bonneville. Where the Mini is a modern reinterpretation of the old Mini Cooper, the new Bonneville is almost a slavish reproduction of the classic. (To be fair, the different approaches probably reflect the greater change in the automotive regulatory environment.)

Once out of the gate with the new Bonneville, though, Triumph started churning out new models, particularly sport bikes and cruisers that bear only a passing resemblance to the Bonneville, if there's any resemblance at all. What they share is the same attitude, articulated in a modern idiom. (You can, however, still get your Modern Classics -- three 60's era lookalikes.) The awesome Speed Triple looks nothing like the Bonneville -- new or old -- but is unmistakably a Triumph.

Triumph took the essence of the Bonneville and built a modern lineup. BMW needs to do the same with the Mini.

Maybe the Automobile Mini variants are off the mark and BMW has a bunch of fresh, new models to introduce that extend the Let's Motor franchise. Let's hope.