It's a Mini disaster! BMW sponsors deadly cold front

Car firm pays to name weather system after new model – then sees it kill scores across Europe

It sounded like a cool marketing move by BMW: paying to have the name of its Mini Cooper Roadster associated with the cold snap engulfing Europe. But the car manufacturer has been left rueing its decision after the freezing weather killed more than 70 people.

The death tolls were highest in Poland and the Ukraine where at least 40 people have died and more than 500 needed hospital care. Temperatures have plummeted as low as -33C since the weekend, as the cold front from Siberia has extended westwards over central and south-eastern Europe.

The mounting fatalities lent a sinister aspect to Germany's practice of allowing companies to sponsor high and low pressure weather systems. BMW, it emerged yesterday, paid the trifling sum of €299 to get the current cold front – named "Cooper" to advertise its Mini – before it started claiming lives. The company plans to name a low pressure area "Minnie" later this year.

Germany is the only country outside the US to name weather systems. BMW said yesterday that it regretted that people had died as a result of Cooper. "Of course we are sorry. It was not intentional, you cannot tell in advance what a weather system will do," a company spokeswoman told The Independent.

Cooper's deadly harvest was clearly an embarrassment to the Munich-based advertising agency Sassenbach, which BMW used to promote its Mini. The agency said that it had decided on weather sponsorship because it wanted a "wind and weatherproof idea". It had encouraged visitors to its website to follow Cooper's "beautiful weather" online. Yesterday a company spokes-man refused to comment on its choice of name.

Yesterday schools and colleges in the Ukrainian capital Kiev were closed because of the cold. Snow and freezing weather resulted in the cancellation of Istanbul ferry traffic across Europe's busiest waterway, the Bosphorus. In Germany a woman froze to death after falling into a drainage ditch.

In Britain, temperatures plunged to -7C in some areas last night, and are not expected to push above 2C today. Forecasters said Eastern England could see snow showers tomorrow, while an Atlantic front is expected to move into Scotland on Saturday, resulting in up to 10cm of snow across higher ground.

* Weekend snow warning as UK shivers