Is BMW planning ‘stretched’ Countryman?

Some consider that the upcoming Mini Countryman is already pushing the limits of the original model's minimalist design ethos.

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Some consider that the upcoming Mini Countryman — the up-to-five-passenger, all-wheel-drive five-door “crossover” that’s within millimetres of “normal” compact hatchbacks — is already pushing the limits of the original model’s minimalist design ethos.

And there are A new report from the U.K.’s Autocar, however, says a future Mini city car concept, smaller than the current subcompact three-door Cooper, may debut within the next 12 months.

The article argues that BMW’s confirmation that it’s working on a three-cylinder engine, the potential of parts-sharing with the forthcoming front-wheel-drive BMW Megacity electric vehicle, and the need to have über-high mileage cars to balance out the corporate fleet average of all those gas guzzling sports cars, makes a more mini Mini a real possibility.

Mini’s renewed interest in city cars follows Smart’s recent announcement that it plans to develop the next ForTwo with France’s Renault.

No word yet if the new Mini city car will be a two- or four-seater. But speculation says it will be larger than the current ForTwo.

Saab has showroom plans

As first-drive reviews of the new Saab 9-5 luxury sedan surface from the U.S., Canadians are still waiting to see if the former General Motors brand will return to our market.

In the meantime, though, the now independent Swedish automaker is continuing with plans to add cars to its showrooms at the top and bottom of its lineup.

Right now, the smallest Saab is the compact 9-3 sedan and wagon. But a premium compact 9-2 model seems to be gaining momentum as a real possibility.

Earlier this year, Saab chief executive officer Victor Muller claimed the new 9-2 would be a “super-cool” supermini, giving kudos to BMW and its modern recreation of the original 1959 Mini.

Apparently, the design of the modern 9-2 — inspired by company’s original 1950s 92 — is in the can. It would be priced about 10 per cent more than the Mini, have a hybrid variation, and arrive in 2013 as a 2014 model.

While the decision to go ahead with the modern 9-2 will be made in the next three months, the biggest hurdle is finding another automaker to partner with. Currently, Saab doesn’t have the resources to create the 9-2 on its own, from scratch.

At the other end of the market, Saab’s new owners – Dutch supercar maker Spyker – wants to almost double the number of dealers selling its high-end sports cars this year by offering them through Saab dealerships (such as the C8 Aileron, which can reach 300 km/h and sells for $214,990 in the U.S.).

Cost of fuel efficiency coming down

It’s not news that with tougher fuel economy regulations on the horizon, the added costs of new technologies will be passed along to consumers

But based on a new report from the U.S. National Academies Press, the overall cost of increasing fuel efficiency in cars may be shockingly low.

A recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report suggested that to meet the 6.6L/100 km (35.5 mpg) fleet average by 2016, about $1,300 (all figures US) would be added to the average price of a new car.

However, the NAP report, which has been in the works for three years, shows that going green will be like every other consumer proposition: we’ll get what we pay for.

In fact, the report (the NAP publishes more than 200 books a year on a wide range of topics in science, engineering, and health) suggests the costs could be more than four times the EPA’s original estimates. And it’s no surprise that hybrids ended up as the most expensive option.

On average, hybrids can offer a 43 per cent reduction in fuel economy over a regular gas-engine-only car. However, the technology adds $6,000 to the price of a new car over a regular gas model.

The next least expensive choice was going diesel, which adds $5,900 in costs but reduces consumption by 37 per cent.

The least costly green option was adding technologies like turbocharging, direct-injection, cylinder deactivation and start/stop to gasoline engines. It only adds about $2,200 in cost, but the resulting 29 per cent reduction is the least as well.

Residual values going up

The economic downturn over the past two years has forced many automakers to curtail making more cars than the market is demanding. While sales may be down compared to 2008 for some manufacturers, the projected residual values (what a vehicle is forecast to be worth at the end of a lease) have risen sharply for some brands.

Residual values are an important part of any new car cost equations. Many lenders base their monthly lease payments on these estimates. The higher the residual, the lower the monthly payment.

The U.S. Automotive Lease Guide projects that 2010 new cars (not including trucks) from the remaining four General Motors North America brands (Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac) and Ford brands will hold on to more than 40 per cent of their original prices after 36 months.

Ford was up 11 per cent, to 48.8 per cent while Chevrolet was up 7.5, to 42.5.

Other automakers benefiting from stronger residuals are Mazda, Hyundai, Suzuki, Kia, Mitsubishi and Subaru.

Honda vehicles had an increase of 2.3 percentage points, to 53.7 percent, while Toyota’s residual values were 51.0 per cent, the same from five years ago.

According to Matt Traylen, Automotive Lease Guide’s chief economist, more competitive new products from GM and Ford is another reason for their higher residual ratings.

“All new models always have a price bump. The average is a 7 or 8 percentage-point bump for an all-new model compared with the old one,” Traylen told Automotive News.

In the end, it comes down to a “pay me now” or “pay me later” situation when shopping for a new car.

He backs that up by citing Chrysler’s woeful residuals — the lowest of the industry at 39.4 per cent, 2.1 percentage points lower than its 2005 projection — explained by the automakers’ lack of new product.

One reason Chrysler’s residuals have been low has been the automaker’s penchant for high purchase incentives. That meant the sticker was much higher relative to the transaction price than it was for other brands.

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