News Analysis : Geneva Update – BMW and Toyota to co-develop a new MINI Minor and Lexus-badged iQ successor?

Clive Goldthorp

MINI Rocketman Concept Image 1.
MINI’s 2011 Rocketman Concept – the inspiration for a MY19 MINI Minor?

The BMW Group and Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) already have a wide-ranging cooperation agreement which was signed back in January, 2013 and extends to the joint development of a fuel cell system, the joint development of architecture and components for a sports car, joint research and development of lightweight technologies and the development a lithium-air battery with an energy density greatly exceeding that of current lithium-ion batteries.

The jointly-developed sports car has, to date, been the most high profile of the four projects mentioned above and, last November, BMW Group confirmed to Bloomberg News that a technical feasibility study, which began in January 2013, had been ‘successfully completed” and that work on the architecture had “moved on to the concept phase and is running according to plan.”

The BMW-TMC sports car programme has reportedly been given the codename Silk Road – Silk Road Phase 1 should result in a BMW Z4-replacing Z5 roadster and an apparently Toyota GT86-replacing coupe. The two OEMs are expected to reveal concepts in the next 12 to 18 months, while the production versions should be launched in 2017 as MY18 models. However, in addition and according to CAR Magazine’s highly-regarded and well-connected European Editor, Georg Kacher, Silk Road Phase 2 will see a proposed BMW Z7 and Lexus ZC/ZR – not to be confused with MG’s sporty version of the Rover 25 – take on the Porsche 911 Carrera in late 2018 or early 2019.

Herr Kacher is also the long-standing European Bureau Chief of the US-based Automobile Magazine and, in that capacity, he last week reported that the BMW Group and TMC were contemplating the addition of a fifth project to their existing cooperation agreement – apparently, the two manufacturers are now evaluating a move into entry-level, A-segment City cars. AROnline readers will find the full story here but Peter Schwarzenbauer, the BMW Group Board Member responsible for MINI, has already suggested that, in order to make MINI profitable, the brand needs to focus on five “superhero” models which will include the new Hatchback (in three and five-door form), the all-new MINI Clubman, which should be launched this summer, and next year’s MINI Countryman, which should be more SUV-like than before.

A number of well-placed Automotive Industry insiders are predicting that the slow-selling MINI Roadster, Coupe and Paceman will be discontinued sooner rather than later so that leaves Schwarzenbauer and his colleague, MINI’s Head of Product Management, Oliver Friedmann, with two additional models to find…

A production version of the MINI Superleggera Vision Concept, which was first revealed during the world-famous Concours d’Elegance at Villa d’Este in May, 2014, is now, apparently, scheduled for launch in early 2018 while Kacher claims that the fifth model will be a smaller MINI wearing the Minor badge – assuming, of course, that the BMW Group owns the IPRs to the MINI Minor name. The MINI Rocketman Concept, which was first seen at the Geneva Motor Show in 2011, might just provide the inspiration for that fifth model.

MINI Superleggera (1)
The 2014 MINI Superleggera Vision Concept – the MY18 MINI Sprite?

TMC may now have discontinued production of the Toyota iQ but a possibly Lexus-badged successor, sharing a common architecture and, say, powertrains with a smaller MINI, could enable both BMW and TMC to establish a viable business case for a combined, more premium entry into the A-segment City car market. That said, a MINI spokesman declined to comment and dismissed the report concerned as “mere speculation” when contacted by Automotive News Europe shortly thereafter…

Automotive News Europe subsequently reported that the Lexus LF-SA Concept “could preview a future model that would be a rival to BMW Group’s MINI [and] the Audi A1 or Daimler’s Smart ForFour minicar.” Meanwhile, in his latest story for CAR Magazine, Georg Kacher, now maintains that “the MINI Minor is likely to come to market in late 2018 or early 2019,” be “just 3450mm long” and “will cost… around £9000-£10,000.” Interestingly, Herr Kacher reckoned that the TMC version of the mooted MINI Minor might be badged as the Toyota Starlet.

However, in revealing the Lexus LF-SA Concept at the Geneva Motor Show today, the company has said: “To celebrate last year’s 25th Anniversary of the very first Lexus, the LS400 saloon, Lexus challenged ED2, its European design studio, to create a concept of an ultra-compact (sub-B-segment) urban 2+2 model. The LF-SA Concept explores unexpected territory for the brand in a powerful, emotional execution that illustrates Lexus’s passion for up-coming design trends.” Well, that sounds just like a premium A-segment City car to us…

The Lexus LF-SA Concept was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show today – a MINI Minor based on the same architecture might be on the cards for 2018/19

Indeed, the Head of Lexus Europe, Alain Uyttenhoven, specifically describes the Lexus LA-SF Concept as a City car in this video…


Clive Goldthorp


  1. Reading the speculation about the possible withdrawal of the MINI Roadster and Coupe, together with the possible production of the MINI Superleggera Vision Concept, one wonders whether the MINI family is possibly too comprehensive now which has resulted in too much overlap between certain ranges?

    Perhaps the Superleggera Vision concept would be better served being developed as a new Triumph sports car? One could have similar sentiments about Roadster and Coupe models developed from basic MINI architecture, too.

    Just my thoughts…

    • “Perhaps the Superleggera Vision concept would be better served being developed as a new Triumph sports car?” Not a chance. Triumph means motorbikes to a lot of people, and means absolutely nothing to a lot more people! The brand is too long retired and worthless in pitching to the demographic the car is aimed at.

      The obvious brand that might have worked would have been MG (a lot of the demographic might even have cut their teeth in an ageing ZR in ‘insurance friendly’ spec.) but that boat has sailed, so it HAS to be MINI.

      • Really? Have you been to any of the big Triumph car rallies in recent years? I am amazed at the young (i.e. early twenties onwards) following the Triumph name and the associated models still command – particularly for the Herald and Spitfire. This is certainly evident with the Triumph Sports Six Club.

        I hardly think Triumph is a name only associated with those who resemble the man in the Wertherss Original Toffee adverts.

        • I think the key problem with Triumph is that the brand is also owned by Triumph motorcycles.

          Before BMW poured billions into re-launching the Triumph brand they would want to get into a formal co-ownership and brand development agreement in the same way Volvo AB and Ford had and now Geely has.

          • I sadly have to concur with Graham A on his last point. Triumph as a brand is managed by the motorcycles outfit and it wouldn’t be very sporting to rain all over that.

            Another factor these days is that ‘Triumph’ is not a word that would translate very well into other languages, and whilst I genuinely believe the Superleggera could be knocked into a TR4 look-alike with a quick nip and tuck, it would have to bear another marque. I am on principle against the use of the MINI name for the product.

            It HAS to be its own niche and exclusive brand, but MG is clearly out of bounds. So why not revive one? Anything wrong with ‘Fury’? Or a similar pre-prod codename?

  2. It’s a curious-sounding partnership. BMW/Mini has a bewildering proliferation of models and it sounds as though they are now discovering that numerous models, of which quite a few have low-volume sales, do not result in the same profits as a select band of core products sold in high volume.

    Toyota seems to have the opposite problem, with its core products now being rather ignored, in Europe at any rate, and its premium brand Lexus having faded, again in UK/Europe, into obscurity (whether its fate has been the same in USA I do not know).

    Would not both manufacturers do better if they were to concentrate on building products which large numbers of people want?

    • Toyota’s actual results in the European market for 2014 shows that their core products are far from forgotten. Although Europe isn’t Toyota’s main market (lying behind the US and Asia), Toyota have had their fourth consecutive year of sales increases in Europe. For example:

      # Toyota Motor Europe (TME) sales exceeded 888,000 units this year, up by 4.6%, better than the estimated market(1) growth of 1.5%
      # All-time hybrid sales record of over 178,000 units, up 13% from 2013 -TME’s market share reached 4.8%
      # Lexus sales up by 23%, reaching 53,230 units, with hybrid representing 98% of sales in Western Europe
      # Top Performers: Yaris (181.000 units), Auris Range (142.000 units), RAV4 (101.000 units), Corolla (83.300 units) and Camry (40.000 units) specifically in Eastern Europe.

  3. In Portugal some car magazines have already showed illustrations of what will be the Mini Minor. I think they’ve increased so much the size of the “traditional” Mini that now they need to create a “true” Mini! How ridiculous that sounds!

    In my opinion, the true succesor of the classic Mini was the Mercedes A-Class: a true revolutionary car that tried to revolutionise the market of front wheel drive cars, exactly as the Mini did in 1959. I know that I’m going to be misjudged about this, but the truth is that the actual Mini isn´t an innovative car so, for me, is just a revivalist redesign of the classic, and not a successor of the original.

    • You’re quite right, I was never much of a Mini fan but the so-called “New Mini” (especially the Clubman) should get the name “Maxi”. The car is a travesty of the word mini and has nothing of the ethos of the original car.

      I sort of agree about the A-Class, but Mercedes-Benz has given the A-Class the same treatment as BMW have to the Mini. The A-Class is neither small nor practical anymore – this is also the reason that the Audi A2 is still so valuable.

  4. The MINI needs to move up into the class above to make money. This drive behind the Clubman etc. and the Minor monicker could be used to allow this expansion – making a sub-A class car makes no sense and is not where the MINI core values (new MINI) lead. BMW may be reluctant to make FWD cars that actually compete with 1 and 3-Series but for MINI that is what they need (not competing directly as not so premium).

    A line up called MINI, MINOR and possibly MAXI or MAJOR (here is where tying in to the BMC heritage gets trickier) would give them a three-car line-up covering A B and C-sectors without diluting the brand appeal of the MINI.

  5. Why this obsession with digging up names from the past?

    How long before someone suggests MINI Marina or MINI Allegro.

  6. In the newspaper today, Toyota announce profits which make them the biggest profit maker in the industry, in spite of slack demand in certain key markets, therefore why should Toyota want to link up with a dog and pony show such as BMW?

    • Because Toyota profits relative to their size and needed development budget are still not that good – even they need to share some of their R&D costs.

  7. Can’t say I’ve ever been interested in buying any of the current MINI range. A neighbour has recently bought a Paceman after having a Countryman, but neither appeal to my “ageing” eyes! I know they have their plus points but to me they just look too big and tall.

    Having said that, the MINI Superleggera Concept does look the most interesting of all I’ve seen.

  8. Alternatively, Toyota could always blow the dust off/update their Daihatsu subsidiary’s Mira Gino which was very heavily influenced by Mini styling and is the right size…

  9. “I wouldn’t let Toyota provide the brakes.”

    If you’re referring to the road test incident reported yesterday in various sources, it was a Suzuki.

  10. To me the biggest problem they face with the MINI range is that they have allowed themselves to be locked into a corner by the “Mini look” that has trapped the range by having the carry over styling cues created in the original to solve limitation of late 1950’s engineering and price limitations. The result is that many of the derivatives simply offer you the opportunity to pay a bit more for your MINI and return marginally a little more or a little less space for the privilege.

    I think the point has come where the MINI brand is strong enough to extend beyond the “Mini look” and offer a modern premium hatch back with 5 doors and room for 4 fully grown adults, to take the battle to the Premium Golf’s/ A3/A Class etc. – something the 1-Series can only make a half-hearted effort due to packaging compromises of its RWD mechanicals.

    The historically logical name to use for this is the “Clubman” as this was the name British Leyland used for its own attempt to move on and upwards from the original Mini.

    If BMW can successfully enter this market segment then it would open the door for a Audi TT and Range Rover Evoque competitors using the same platform.

    I still see the advantages in retaining a retro MINI as a 3 door, 5 door and convertible premium supermini, but am not convinced of the need for a smaller City car – I think the economics of such a car are better solved by something cheap and simple like a Pug 108 or a Fiat Panda than a premium solution from Lexus/MINI.

    • It’s all water under the bridge now but I always thought BMW should have badged them as Austin-Morris Minis and still produced ranges of Minis, Minors and Healeys. A missed opportunity, I think in haste, dogged by the arrogance of the management of that period.

      • I think you are right, although of course, back in 1999, few people actually believed the Mini was even viable and with ARG eating £500 million a year you could understand why the BMW shareholders wanted a quick way out.

    • Perhaps Toyota want a slice of the MINI pie? After all, the Toyota iQ was (in the words of Alex Moulton no less) an Issigonis Mini brought up to date to conform to modern crash test requirements.

  11. I am confused by Toyota wanting to provide a “premium” A-segment car, using the Lexus name. Don’t they remember the Aston Martin Cygnet? The iQ in Prada!

    • Andy J,

      Well, my apologies if the closing paragraph of my article has caused you some confusion – my comment about “a possibly Lexus-badged [iQ] successor, sharing a common architecture and, say, powertrains with a smaller MINI” was entirely speculation on my part.

      However, if the BMW Group and TMC were to co-develop a new A-segment City car architecture, then my guess is that the TMC version might well be badged as Lexus so as not to compete directly with the Toyota Aygo. The aim would be to produce the car in much greater volumes than the Aston Martin Cygnet and hence at a much lower sale price than that model.

  12. In Portugal some car magazines have already showed illustrations of what will be the Mini Minor. I think they’ve increased so much the size of the “traditional” Mini that now they need to create a “true” Mini! How ridiculous that sounds!

    In my opinion, the true succesor of the classic Mini was the first generation of the Mercedes A-Class: a true revolutionary car that tried to revolutionise the market of front wheel drive cars, exactly as the Mini did in 1959. I know that I’m going to be misjudged about this, but the truth is that the actual Mini isn´t an innovative car so, for me, is just a revivalist redesign of the classic, and not a successor of the original.

  13. An actual MINI, comparable in size to the original and a competitor to the Fiat 500, that is well engineered. Sounds good to me…

    • True it does, but not sure you could build such a car in the UK and or in sufficient volume to be economical.

      For example, PSA and Toyota share resources for the 108 and its clones made in the Czech Republic. The Fiat 500 shares its oily bits with the Ka, Panda, Lancia etc. and comes out of a factory in Poland.

      I fear you could end up with another money pit like the Smart.

      • It’ll be interesting to see where they build them. I don’t think they will build it in the UK either although both companies have UK manufacturing facilities and I doubt Holland but it depends on how upmarket it will be. My guess would be a joint facility in eastern Europe…
        The new Smart cars are really ugly pugs Why would anyone want to buy one.

  14. Is the 500 not actually pretty big? It also comes in “Grande” now. I can’t get my head round why you would by a 500 over a Panda, but people do.

  15. I’d be very cautious about reviving old BMC and Leyland marques. Most of them are worthless today and, in some cases, actually toxic brands.

    I used to think a Triumph revival would be worthwhile but these days would agree with some of the comments above, that it’s associated with bikes and most people outside the classic car scene have long since forgotten they even existed.

    The Riley badge gets mentioned from time to time but I’d argue that the badge is worthless today. It would cost a fortune to recreate and let’s face it, most people would be more familiar with Mavis Riley off Coronation Street than the blue diamond. I’d put Wolseley in the same category.

    Austin and Morris are arguably toxic brands with so much negative baggage that it would be madness to even think about a revival.

    I’m not trying to be mean to classic car owners but, as someone else has said on here, their boat has long since sailed.

    The MINI brand worked for BMW because because there was no break in production and, even when British Leyland were viewed as being rubbish, there was still massive affection for the Mini. The same almost goes for MG, but I’m afraid that brand is being rapidly destroyed in my eyes.

    Just a thought…

    • Absolutely, its 2015, not 1965. These brands that a very small minority of car enthusiasts and virtually no potential buyer get misty eyed over are completely meaningless. It would be commercial madness to try and revive them for a volume product.

    • Of all British Leyland’s dead brands then I have to agree with you that Triumph is the only one of value but this is mostly because of its appearance on motorcycles.

      For BMW already a bike producer and with its German competitors now owning Ducati and MV Agusta it’s not impossible to think of John Bloor being made an offer he could not refuse for Triumph. Certainly many synergies between the two bike lines and would enable BMW to focus its brand on the premium market with Triumph focusing on the sub litre capacity bikes like the 675 and Bonnie where its volume is.

      Triumph cars could platform share with the Mini to produce modern styled sub 3 series hot and warm hatches to act as a lead into the BMW range and add volume to their FWD products.

  16. Would be interested to see how the Mini Minor turns out, wonder whether BMW and Toyota will design a new engine family or make use of the new BMW B38 / B37 3-cylinder engines.

    Agree that the MINI Minor should move beyond the “Mini look” maybe drawing inspiration from the Mini 9X, Bertone-styled Innocenti Mini or the Rover Spiritual (particularly the one-box body).

    • The Mini 9X?! It’s a box on wheels with no styling whatsoever! Could you imagine BMW, of all people, looking for inspiration from that!

      • Meant the Pininfarina styling mock-up, not the actual prototype.

        Point is that the MINI Minor moving beyond the “Mini look” does not mean other aspects of Mini history should be overlooked, similar to how elements of the new Renault Twingo draw inspiration from the Renault 5 and old rear-engined Renaults.

  17. Wow, maybe a Mini that will be smaller than a Maxi at last.

    The Superleggera Concept may go up against the MX-5 and other small open top cars.

  18. It’s worth noting that the iQ was very much a premium urban car, rather than a cheap small car like the Yaris/108/C1 clones, so would be an promising base to partner a smaller MINI with. The iQ was made in Japan, which reflects this.

  19. I would love to see the Triumph name return, although I’m an old codger now at 53. However, my son who is only 18, would also like to see it resurrected. The Triumph name – particularly the Sprint – is one that means a great deal to him, he wanted one as his first car.

    • On cars, yes, but as already said it also appears on Motorcycles and BMW (unlike British Leyland) are sharp enough to realise that if you are going to manage a brand they would need to work with Triumph Motorcycles.

      A good example of how this works is, how Volvo AB (makes Volvo Trucks, Buses, Construction Equipment etc.) share ownership of the Volvo brand with Geely (makes Volvo Cars) via a joint “Brand” company.

      It is this company that does things like the Volvo Ocean race and Golf tournaments but, most importantly, secures a common brand strategy for the products i.e. Safety, Enviromental Care, Quality.

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