Mini will add an upmarket commercial version at the Geneva Motor Show, creating a new niche for the growing premium small car segment. Though the Clubman-based Clubvan is only a concept, we expect the unique blend of upmarket panache and delivery van load-carrying capacity to finally show that there is a pent-up demand for a premium stylish commercial vehicle and propel the concept into production.
Mini envisages the Clubvan as being particularly desirable to businesses with the need to fashion an upmarket brand, and which regularly need to ferry large objects or bulky loads around urban areas - photographers, fashion designers, art galleries, architects and the like.
The load area is closed off behind the front seats, and the opaque rear side windows give the unmistakable look of a working vehicle, but one with a set of values that is compatible with all of those aforementioned business types and maybe a lot more.
That's because this vehicle has a predecessor - an ancestor with a full helping of Mini DNA, and it was a marketplace success - the Morris Mini Van, or as you can see from the brochure below, the Austin Mini 1/4 ton van.
The Mini was announced in 1959, and the public demand for the additional space of a van version managed to push it into production within a year. The Morris Mini Van was not released in all markets the Mini sold in, but it was nonetheless incredibly popular in those markets where it was released.
Australia was one of the markets that did take the Morris Mini Van and I'd be surprised if a very high percentage of the vans sold in Australia are not still in service today. They are highly prized across the country you're still likely to see a lovingly restored Mini Van wearing the livery of an upmarket delicatessen, flower shop or artisan bakery, or as often as not, one that hasn't missed a beat for half a century and is half an inch wider because it has been painted so many times.
The Morris Mini Van was axed in 1982 by the company's then owner British Leyland after 22 years of production and half a million vehicles.
Despite missing a half of the first generation Mini's sales history, (Mini from 1959 to 2000, the Morris Mini Van from 1960 to 1982), the van's 521,494 sales account still accounted for close to 10% of the Mini's total sales of 5,387,862 when production ceased in October, 2000 and BMW got to work on the second coming.
The question has to be asked why it has taken Mini so long to launch what is an obvious derivative of a successful brand?
Most likely because it's a commercial vehicle.
This is Mini's first commercial vehicle.
Until now, it has sculpted a fine robust brand from the mire the Mini went through. As iconic as it might now be a half century later, the Mini was just another mismanaged British automobile model for the first decade of its life.
It had three owners before BMW, was initially sold as the Austin Seven and Morris Mini Minor, and has also been seen in undisguised variants as the Wolseley Hornet, Riley Elf, Morris Mini Traveller and Austin Mini Countryman.
Somehow, it still managed to become globally recognized as the Mini.
It's perhaps quite understandable that once the Mini had emerged from all this marketing mayhem as such a well-recognized brand in its own right, that the brand custodians might be concerned about the Mini's brand values getting it on with those proletarian blue collar commercial mutts down the road and sullying the family name ... again.
With the nature of work in many countries beginning to change rapidly, the blurring of the lines between work and leisure, a commercial Mini again looks like a surefire winner. It's frugal with space and fuel and emissions, it's serious fun to drive, and now it's very practical as a commercial vehicle.
"Fun to drive" is not just a frivolous marketing slogan. Minis are a bundle of fun to drive, and if I was a professional who spent a goodly proportion of my time on the road, I'd jump at the chance to be driving a Mini.
"Exhilarating to drive" is not one of the key criteria used in designing commercial vehicles. Indeed, I wonder how many people will read this article and begin plotting their justification (to spouse, business partner etc.) for a company Clubvan.
The Mini's core values align with so many businesses and individuals, the Clubvan might well become a big hit. It forms an ideal base upon which many a purpose-built vehicle can be created, and you can expect to see lots of pimping of this vehicle for professional and recreational purposes.
The press release makes mention of made-to-measure drawers or shelving units but the reference was vague and there are no pics of such units. There are several 12-volt plug sockets in the load compartment and the framework is there for the inevitable customization and adaptation with six attachment loops recessed into the load compartment floor to enable the securing of cargo and any other fixtures you can dream up.
The flat load area ends at a fixed stainless steel and aluminum grille, which keeps items in the rear, not under your seat and pedals. Access to the rear is through the rear-hinged "Clubdoor" on the right-hand side as well as through the two side-hinged doors on the rear.
There's not much else to say - it's a Mini - unless you're an aficionado, you probably have trouble telling the difference between some of the existing Mini models, but this one will be easily identifiable thanks to the tinted rear window, polycarbonate covers over the rear side windows and the internal grill.