The news that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating complaints of engine fires in Mini Cooper “S” auto models from 2007 and 2008 reminds us that the “explosive” popularity of small cars is sometimes accompanied by “smokin’” performance of a completely different nature.
The Mini Cooper’s engine fires have resulted in blazes that can destroy the entire car … and some of those fires happened after the vehicles had been shut off. Owners of the Mini Cooper, Cooper Clubman and Cooper Convertible, you’ve been fairly warned!
Hopefully, the findings from the NHTSA investigation won’t be as crippling for the Mini Cooper as similar investigations of the Tata Nano car in India. That vehicle burst on the scene in 2009 to breathless praise from all quarters, ranging from top industrial designers to leading consumer advocates.
With a base price of just $2,200 – lower than any other car in the world – along with noteworthy styling that had the design world abuzz, it was an irresistible story of the confluence of value engineering and design chic.
Until the car’s engines starting catching on fire.
Tata Motors has been frantically working on the problem in recent months, adding new safety features to the Nano (now dubbed the “Tata No-No” by more than a few industry observers). The manufacturer has also extended the car’s warranty to four years and is offering big discounts and cheap financing to maintain sales levels.
Nevertheless, the company has seen monthly unit purchases slide by more than 80%. It’s certainly a far cry from the heady days of 2008 when the Tata Nano won the prestigious Innovation Award in the Transportation category and was the toast of the design world.
Will the Mini Cooper follow the Tata Nano into automotive ignominy? Likely not. But it’s a huge black eye for a car brand that’s been nearly immune from criticism – at least until now.
One thing’s for sure: Before this week, no one would have expected the Mini Cooper and Tata Nano to be spoken about in the same breath. Now they’re the Bobbsey Twins. And that has to be really bad news for the Mini Cooper.