New Mini to be sold in US for first time

THE MINI is set to go on sale in America for the first time when it appears in its new incarnation at the turn of the millennium. The latest version of the world's best selling small car is likely to be sold in the US through BMW's dealer network.

However, the greatest demand for the new Mini is likely to come from Japan - already the biggest market in the world for the car.

BMW, which acquired the famous marque when it bought Rover in 1994, yesterday announced plans to distribute and sell the new Mini separately through a hand-picked network of dealers. In the UK alone, more than pounds 100m will be invested in the Mini dealer network, drawn from existing Rover Cars dealerships. Sales of the car in the rest of the world, with the exception of Japan, will be handled through BMW dealerships.

Production is due to begin in 2000 and will reach 100,000 a year - six times current output. The new Mini will cost at least pounds 12,000 compared with pounds 9,500 for the current version and pounds 426 for the original version designed by Sir Alex Issigonis in 1959.

The pounds 400m investment in the new Mini will safeguard 2,500 jobs at Rover's Longbridge plant in Birmingham. Production of the current Mini is running at 17,000 a year - of which half are exported to Japan.

The new Mini was unveiled briefly at the Frankfurt Motor Show last September, since when it has gone back under wraps. The original car began life as a doodle by Sir Alex on a cigarette packet and was one of the first front- wheel drive cars. The new Mini will have to same compact dimensions but much more advanced technology, particularly in the area of safety.