Mini Takes the States road trip; tries new route

Mini turned its biennial road trip for loyal owners this year into a rolling focus group.

The community-building trek, known as Mini Takes the States, lets Mini enthusiasts traverse the country with fellow owners and take in the sights along the way in their distinctive small cars. The event began in 2006 and has drawn thousands of owners through the years.

The ride has normally been a cross-country affair, but the route was broken into two halves this year — with owners on the West and East coasts converging in Keystone, Colo. One contingent began in Orlando, the other in Portland, Ore.

The 2018 ride had a special twist that turned out to be a hit among owners: Members of Mini’s Oxford manufacturing team participated in the trip to glean insights from owners.

“To our enthusiastic owners, they were like celebrities,” Patrick McKenna, department head of marketing for Mini USA, told Automotive News. “People were thrilled they came all the way from England.”

Owners also had a chance to pilot a connected-car app made available during the drive. The app, along with a corresponding OBD-II port device, gave participants who opted in the opportunity to track their vehicle’s operating data and diagnostics in real time, and see where other participants were along the route.

The 2018 trip drew around 3,600 owners, 2,300 of whom traveled the entire length of either the east or west leg. McKenna said there was even a contingent from the San Francisco Bay Area that, instead of starting the drive out west, headed to Florida and began there. The trip, themed “Rally to the Rockies,” took place July 14-22.

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Mini Takes the States participants stop en route to Keystone, Colo. In addition to engaging enthusiasts, Mini uses the biennial road trip to raise money for Feeding America. Part of each participant’s registration fee is donated to the charity.

In devising routes, Mini looks for the road less traveled, said Caryn Grun, manager of experiential marketing for Mini USA. The goal, Grun said, is to take the most scenic routes with engaging driving experiences on the “curviest” roads. The Mini team tries to pick cities that weren’t visited on previous trips, so the route went through New Orleans for the first time.

Mini clubs in Florida have clamored for the drive to begin in their state for years. The eastern route opened in Orlando and headed to Tallahassee, where drivers had breakfast in front of Florida State University’s Doak Campbell Stadium. Other stops included Little Rock, Ark.; Dallas; and Oklahoma City on the eastern route, and Sacramento, Calif.; Los Angeles; and Santa Fe, N.M., on the western route.

During the Arkansas leg, the Mini congregation took over a section of Little Rock’s airport, where the owners drove in a caravan on the runway. Out west, the Mini legion took the Million Dollar Highway, a scenic stretch of U.S. 550 from Silverton to Ouray in Colorado. The journey ended with a ski resort takeover in Keystone.

In 2016, stops included the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., and the 9/11 memorial site for Flight 93 and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania.

A caravan of Minis drives from Portland to Ashland, Ore.

The Minis sometimes get a police escort.

The riders can provide sparks for businesses in the small towns. When drivers make pit stops at restaurants in these places, for instance, McKenna said, it’s not uncommon for them to find that they’re already full of Mini owners. McKenna said some of these small-town residents have never seen a Mini before.

Brand leaders worried the road trip was drawing the same people year after year rather than expanding the community. But that thought was laid to rest this year when Mini found that about half of the participants were first-timers.

McKenna said many road trippers own fairly new models, with around half owning vehicles from within the past few years of production.

“It comes back to loyalty, and really thanking these customers who feel so passionate about the brand,” McKenna said of Mini’s road rally. “I think it’s our duty to continue this tradition.”

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