MINI Scooter E: car companies > bike companies

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What’s a brand with near universal youth appeal, a large network of friendly, upmarket dealerships and the ability to engineer and manufacture an affordable, stylish electric two wheeler? Yeah, of course it’s MINI, but you get the point: we need to take this car company talking about producing a funky electric scooter very seriously.

Yesterday we saw the MINI Scooter E sketches, this morning we took at look at the smartphone integration on both it and the eerily similar Smart eScooter and now we’ve got official information and a whole mess o’ pictures. What the information doesn’t currently include are tech specs beyond the presence of a lithium-ion battery pack (duh) and a wheel hub motor. Expect a restricted 30mph top speed to comply with European license restrictions that will make the scooter accessible to riders as young as 16 there and to older riders who can’t or don’t want to try for a full bike license.

What this press release, embedded above, does reveal is the presence of features that show MINI is thinking hard about how the Scooter E could fit into its showrooms. BMW’s British sub-brand is known for its Harley-like range of chintzy accessories — everything from chrome fog lamps to British flag vinyl stickers for the roofs. Upselling on accessories and rolling them into the same finance plan as the car purchase is hugely profitable for the brand and they’re already talking about ways to do it with these scooters. A centrally-mounted accessory rail runs vertically from the windshield and is capable of attaching MINI-brand brollies, thermoses, sunglass holders and helmet storage compartments. Expect Schuberth to be wringing its hands at the possibility of a cheap-to-make, expensive-to-buy rang of scooter helmets.

Further pushing the possibilities for showroom customization, the scooter is being shown in three different versions, an understated basic British Racing Green, a contemporary acid green that should please people who love hugging trees and want you to know about it and a Lambretta rip-off red, white and blue version. It’s easy to get the feeling that MINI’s parent company, BMW, is forgetting that the brand is British and not Italian, or at least that they hope you’ll forget that.

That BMW parent company is also a key indicator of the scooter’s production feasibility. BMW already makes bikes, has made scooters (fucking awesome ones with roofs) and has been toying around with electric concept scooters for a couple years now. It’s possible that the company has realized that, in most of the world, people in their late teens through early thirties don’t identify strongly with the roundel unless their pretentious wankers, which was the whole reason for the MINI brand in the first place — to sell BMW’s to people that didn’t want to be seen to drive a BMW. Now that MINI’s cars have grown out of affordability and the brand itself is being expanded rapidly with a whole raft of new models including an SUV, MINI needs a new way to start young people on its purchasing ladder. A $4-5000-ish electric scooter could be the ideal platform to get a  younger audience into the MINI brand.

Of course, a widespread network of bright, friendly dealers who don’t think women are shopping for their husbands, that can offer easy financing, represent an already very well-known and well-liked brand and aren’t located in dingy out-of-town industrial parks combined with an enormous marketing budget and the halo effect of a decade’s worth of good products and good marketing all combine to create what could be the 800lbs guerilla in a room full of tiny, unknown electric scooter makers. If we were a Japanese or Italian company thinking about bringing an electric scooter to western markets, we’d be afraid, very afraid.

  • nicktp

    I’ve never seen the BMW/MINI dynamic described so perfectly.

  • kidchampion

    The phone integration would work great in a scheme similar to Zipcar, or Velib’.

    Also: should be “they’re pretentious wankers” not “their”.

  • Mark D

    The “modern-classic” lines of scooters today may be based on Vespas and Lambrettas, but I’ve always associated scooters with British Mods, so there’s your UK connection, I suppose. I can’t think of a better car/scooter connection than Mini.

    There is something to be said about being electric, too; people are afraid of seeing an ICE up close. I remember showing off my bike to a friend who literally asked if he should, “step back” when I turned it on, like its a bomb, or a wheat thresher about to take off his hand!

  • UrbanRider

    Well having just spoke to the Press lady at Mini UK, she maintained that this is just a ‘design excercise’ and the bikes were not going to go into production. This is in contrast to Sky News who talk of it just being a matter of time.

    So who knows what the truth is, I’m going to do more digging…

    • Wes Siler

      You realize “press ladies” just read from a prepared statement, right? They’re there to look good and flatter the old journos.

      Look at the signs:

      1. They’re promoting the HELL out of these scoots, even paying Agyness Deyn to endorse them, that’s not usual for something that’s just a concept.

      2. The BMW Group’s design chief, Adrian Van Hooydonk penned them.

      3. The bikes themselves are very realistic, not just concept whimsy. Ignore the smartphone thing obviously

      4. They’ve already conceived a way to roll in an accessories range

      5. It’s essentially been leaked to the British press that they’re pointing towards a production scooter.

      Of course the final product won’t be as concepty as these bikes, but smart money would be on it coming. Probably not to the US.