Mini

I Want the MINI Paceman Adventure Truck!

If MINI ever builds this I’m all in. As a former MINI owner and a huge fan of the brand, I have to say I’ve been a bit disappointed with the model line as of late. The MINI got larger, the line fractured into so many models, all of which are really working, and things have just seemed a bit flat.

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Leave it to a bunch of interns and their instructors at BMW’s plants in Munich and Dingolfing to come up with something that really kicks some serious MINI butt. The thing is though this is a one-off  and might not ever see the light of day. Based on an All 4 Cooper S Paceman the team removed the back end and replaced it with a truck bed creating a rocking little MINI Truck. (Remember the Chevy Luv?) fitted with heavy duty off road tires a spare on the roof, rally lights, and what looks like a rugged interior, raised ground clearance, and painted up in “Jungle Green” metallic paint, this is a winner to me.

I really hope this goes from an intern project to an actual vehicle. This is the kind of thing MINI needs to bring the excitement back.

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MINI Art Beat, Vine, and Rolling Social Media.

Pushing the boundaries on Social Advertising, MINI has converted a  Mini Countryman into a rolling billboard powered by Vine video streams. The Countryman is covered in thousands of LED lights arranged in a structured array on the vehicle. The LED lights are fed Vine video streams which play back on the car as it cruises the streets of London at night. Now this is a pretty inventive way to use the Twitter owned social media video site.  The entire backstory on the production, technology, and campaign can be found at the MINI Space Blog here.

Superior Chevrolet, You Really Need to Rethink the Way You Work.

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Shopping for a car is always a stressful experience. It doesn’t have to be, but when you are spending a large sum of money it tends to be. This is an example of two separate experiences I had today. One good, one bad, both examples of dealership and corporate culture.

The first example involves looking at a Chevy Volt at Superior Chevrolet in Shawnee Kansas. The second looking at a MINI Countryman two blocks down the road at Baron MINI. The experiences are like night and day, with the Chevy experience being one of the worst ever.

I like the Volt. It’s an American car with bright future. It’s green. It is a showcase car for Chevy and one they should be proud of. Currently Chevy is running a killer lease deal on the Volt, and it’s compelling enough for me to burn a Saturday morning trying to test drive one. The thing is though, I walked out of the dealership without ever driving the Volt, and saying I’d never shop at Superior again. Actually most Chevy dealers I’ve been to pull what I’m going to explain in a bit. Before I do, let just say that last Friday I test drove a 2013 Porsche Boxster at Aristocrat Motors, alone, after a quick copy of my license and insurance. That my friends is a huge thing. I do not want a sales person going on my test drive. Neither should you. It doesn’t allow you to relax, be yourself, and really experience the car.

So the Superior visit went like this. Kristy called to make sure they had one we could drive and double check the lease rate. Everything looked OK, but it seemed a bit odd that the receptionist passed her to a sales associate who told us we had to check in with the Sales Manager when we got to Superior. Why would you have to do that? You’ll find out in a bit.

We drove to Superior, pulled in and parked. As soon as we got out of the car, we were pounced on by a sales associate wanting our business. We told him we needed to speak to the sales manager as we had been told to, and he immediately started fishing for details on what we were looking for, what our time frame was, who we had talked to, etc.

In typical fashion, he ushered us to an open office and asked us to wait while he went to look for the manager. A few minutes later he was back, and said the manager would just be a bit and he wanted to get some more info before we began. All we want to do is test drive a car. We aren’t even looking at buying or leasing at this point. We just want to look at it. None of this seems to matter at Chevy though. Before you can test drive they need your phone number, address, credit score, relationship to each other, the options on the car you are interested in, what color you might want it in, your first born, and a sack of gold. Did I mention all we wanted to do was test drive the damn thing to see if we even liked it?

After about 30 minutes of sitting in the office where our sales dude would periodically get up and go talk to the manager down the hall, the sales manager finally arrived. Now this is where it gets really old school. This is not a car for me. It is a car for Kristy. The sales manager directed all his talking to me. Even when I pointed out I’m not buying or leasing the car, she is. Strike One. At this point he informed us that the sales associate would be “taking us” on a test drive and he disappeared down the hall. The sales guy got a set of keys and slipped outside to fetch a Volt, and we sat and waited.

10 minutes later he returned and informed us that all three Volts in stock had dead batteries, so we couldn’t drive one. Strike 2. At this point trying to salvage a test drive, I said it was OK charge one up, we’ll go run some errands and come back later for a test drive. Sensing a loss of sale he said hold on, disappeared into the managers office and came back a few minutes later. The manager said we could drive it even though the battery is dead. ( if you are unfamiliar with the Volt, it’s all electric. The gas engine charges the main battery, but you kind of want to drive it battery only to see how it runs in normal everyday conditions ). We were there so we said OK, only to find out the sales guy was coming along for the test drive. He told us it was Chevy policy, he had to. Strike 3. We walked.

Here is the deal. From the moment we exited our car, the whole experience felt rigged. The sales guy sized us up. He asked me if I was trading my BMW for the volt, he checked out my watch, he captured as much info visually and through the pre-test questions as he could. He relayed it to the sales manager who didn’t give a damn about Kristy, he simply wanted to sell ME a car. The whole experience was a giant fail because Chevy’s corporate dealer culture is steeped in old school methods. We walked out without driving or leasing a car. We drove down the street to Baron MINI, and experienced the complete opposite.

I have purchased a number of cars from Baron, but the experience I am going to describe is exactly like it was the first time I ever went there. We walked in, looked around a bit said we wanted to test drive a MINI Countryman and a Coupe, they photo copied our licenses, and insurance, handed us the keys to the first car and said go have some fun. The sales person didn’t ride along. They didn’t try and gather a bunch of info or ask what our credit score was. They didn’t get my phone number. They simply said take the car for a spin and let us know what you think. It was easy, relaxed, zero pressure, and it worked. Chevy could learn from this.

Out of the last 5 cars I have purchased, only once did the sales person ride along. Two years ago when a Honda sales person pulled this on a test drive, we walked and bought from another Honda dealer. The fact is, the only reason they want to go along on the test drive is to get more information from you that they can use to close the sale. In reality if the product is good enough, and the sales person treats you right, they don’t need to ride along. Like I said earlier, all it really does is make the potential buyer nervous and uncomfortable. The Chevy dealer told us it was “Policy”, for “Insurance reasons”. I’m calling BS on that one. If it is policy, it’s one GM and their dealers need to change.

So where did Superior fail;

They didn’t try to understand their customer
They targeted the wrong buyer assuming it was the man, not the woman
To much pressure from the start
They were overly aggressive
The product didn’t work. How can you sell an electric car with dead batteries?
They let their old school corporate cultural control the sales experience (the world has changed and buyers are to well informed, and don’t like being sold every moment.)
They treated a person interested Ina high tech 21st century car, like the same person buying a Camero
There were to many people involved in the exchange. Why did it take 3 Chevy employees to try and lease one car
They didn’t listen. All we wanted to do was take a test drive.

MINI Cooper S Coupe, Hands On.

Yesterday afternoon I received a phone call from my favorite auto sales associate, Ms. Maryanne Calhoun at Baron MINI in Merriam. The purpose of her call was simple, the new MINI Coupe had arrived at Baron. I didn’t get her call until after they had closed for the night so going to see it, and drive it was going to have to wait until Saturday. That little wait was worth it.

Here is my two cents after spending some time with the Coupe this morning. This isn’t an in depth review, just some observations about the car.

First off the coupe feels small. I know it is built on the same frame as the convertible and it is the same dimensional size except for the height, but those two vertical inches make a difference. I felt almost claustrophobic inside the car. The roof line sits so low that seeing traffic signals was at times painful and I had the seat as low as it would go.

When I first got in the car I thought to myself “You better get used to using your side mirrors instead of shoulder checking because the over the shoulder blind spots are worse than the convertible with the top up.” I was pleasantly surprised that they weren’t. The expanse of glass across the hatch gives ample viewing when you glance over your shoulder, and the side mirrors make up for the rest.

The car drives like any other MINI Cooper S. Loads of pickup, rapid fire shifting, nimble turning, cornering, and weaving through traffic. With that said, the ride is just as stiff as any MINI hardtop. The ride at times felt almost rough. Now this could be in part to the 18 inch wheels and lower profile tires, but in all honesty I think it has to do with the suspension. Personally I like that feel, but I can see where some people would be put off.

The exterior of the Coupe is full on MINI, and is quite a head turner. The “Three Box” design looks great in person, much better than any of the photos I have seen. As always the front of the car is familiar, and has an aggressive look with the driving lamps installed. If I were to get the Coupe I would get the JCW Aero Kit though. The wider front spoiler, side skirts, and other ground effects really do add to the styling of the car. The rear of the car hides a spoiler that pops up automatically at 50 miles per hour. This is a handy reminder that you are speeding on city streets (well I should say it told me to slow my ass down when it popped up. And yes I was going way over 50 without realizing it) The spoiler drops back into the trunk line when your speed drops below 37 mph, and the technology is not just a first for Mini, but for the BMW family as a whole.

As I mentioned earlier that two inches that was shaved off the roof line, and the 13 degree rake to the windscreen is noticeable when you are in the car. Forward visibility is tight, rear visibility is almost non existent, especially when the rear deck wing is up at 50 mph plus. The rest of the interior is pure MINI. Thankfully the center console that houses radio controls has been redesigned, and is much more user friendly. The car still has the large center speedo, with the tach floating above the steering column. The seats were the same comfortable body hugging seats MINI drivers have gotten used to. In the car I was driving they were a combination of cloth and leather.

As for driving performance the car gets up and goes. It has lots of oomph, quick throttle response, and great acceleration. With that there is noticeable torque steer from the front wheel drive assembly. If you are a MINI owner, or anyone that drives a front wheel drive car that has any kind of pick up, you are used to this and it’s not a big deal. I have been driving a rear wheel drive BMW for the last 2 months and I had forgotten what this feels like. It isn’t bad, it’s just different.

So, bottom line… I would buy this car. It was a blast to drive. It looks great in person. It was fun as hell. If any of you want to buy my 128i I will sell it to you. I need to make a profit though so I can put a down payment on the Coupe.

36+mpg

Yesterday I made the trek from Kansas City to Chicago land via the highways and byways of Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois. As we motored North and East, the cost of gas crept up  slowly topping out at $4.45 a gallon on the South side of Chicago.

The good thing is, my MINI was rocking the mileage at 36+ per gallon the whole trip. I set the cruise at 75, let the car roll and watched the miles go by. While I didn’t get 36 plus the whole time the lowest average my dash board read out gave me was 35.1 which isn’t that bad when you consider how hilly I-80 is in Iowa, and the fact that I was going faster than the gas sipping sweet spot of 65 miles per hour.

Stopped behind a truck on I-80 in Illinois. So much construction hampered my mileage with frequent stops.

Getting 30 Plus.

OK, I’ll admit it… I’m a lead foot. I like to drive fast, I have a fun car with a lot of pick up, and I tend to take advantage of it. It’s hard not to mash the gas pedal down and rack my way through all six gears getting the car up to speed. I like pushing it through winding roads, and I like snaking through busy traffic on the freeway leaving all the left-lane lollygaggers in my wake.

Lately though, as the price of gasoline has edged toward 4 bucks a gallon, (and inspired by Kristy’s Honda Insight 45 plus to the gallon) I have been trying to drive a little bit gentler.

The result of my new driving style has been an increase in fuel economy from about 24.5 mpg to 30 mpg. I know it’s not great, but it is better, and I’d probably get better than that if I drove the freeway to work. Red lights kill you and Kansas City’s lights are all out of sync. Hit one green light, you might hit another but don’t count on it. The best part is, that my gentle driving style during the week means more gas in my tank on Saturday and Sunday. All of this translates to a few hours of fun driving without feeling guilty. Yes that’s right I do not feel guilty about having fun driving my car just for the sake of driving it. And I don’t feel guilty about putting the top down and stomping on the gas.

Even after today’s run about town, I am still getting 30 mpg, and if I push it I might be able to get it close to MINI’s projected mpg of 35, although I know you never get what the EPA says you will. None the less I’m getting better mileage than I was and that is a good thing.

Rocketman! BSUR and PostPanic’s 2 Minute History of MINI.

Some days you stumble across things that ignite your passions on a number of fronts. As a MINI owner, the Rocketman concept gets me going because it is a cool looking MINI concept. As a guy that does a lot of  animation, motion graphics designer, video editing and special effects, this video for the Rocketman gets me going because of the superb use of great animation, motion graphics, green screen shots, post production, editing, and integrated CGI. This product film for the MINI Rocketman was created by BSUR and PostPanic. This two-minute short film tells the history of MINI using both 2D and 3D animation combined with live action footage. which is PostPanic’s specialty.