Brand new BMW just a mouse click away

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 June, 2010, 12:00am

It takes more mouse clicks than buying a book on Amazon, but not many more.

First, click to choose your model, colour, upholstery and related options. Tick the boxes for 'trade-in' or 'financing', if desired.

Ready your credit card as you are directed to the PayPal website, and moments later you will receive a confirmation e-mail in your inbox thanking you for your purchase: a new Mini compact car.

Don't forget to click the link that posts the specifications of your beloved ride-to-be on your Facebook page, to make your friends jealous.

Online shopping is just one part of an experimental rethink of how cars are sold at BMW Group's Mini brand. The new approach made its global debut a few weeks ago in New Zealand and launches today in Hong Kong, along with a new showroom in Causeway Bay across from Lee Gardens - an area better known for luxury handbags and designer dresses than car dealerships.

'It's breaking new ground. Other markets will watch very closely what goes on here,' BMW's vice-president for sales development Peter van Binsbergen said. 'We are asking some provocative questions about automotive retail: is there another way to do it?'

That BMW regularly convinces buyers to shell out HK$200,000 to HK$400,000 for 1.4 to 1.6 litre compact cars is a testament to both massive investments in marketing and production as well as the company's success in reinventing the iconic 60-year-old British brand, which it relaunched in 2001. Since then, the new Mini had sold more than 3,000 units in Hong Kong and BMW had opened about 18 dealerships across the mainland, where sales volumes doubled last year (albeit from a low base), executives said.

In addition to online shopping, the makeover of Mini's Hong Kong retailing process also introduces mobile salespeople. They will bring a car by your home or office for a test drive, and will also deliver your new purchase after you have signed on the dotted line. (The online payment is only a HK$5,000 initial deposit, and only open to people with Hong Kong addresses).

'We're not cold calling, only coming by appointment. Like a premium personal banker,' van Binsbergen said.

Having decamped from Gloucester Road's car-dealership row, Mini's new showroom in Causeway Bay has only one car, and it is not for driving. The company keeps a few others in an upstairs garage for test drives.

'The idea is to put Mini closer to the customers and into their comfort zone for shopping, without them having to drive out to where all the other car dealerships are,' van Binsbergen said.