Looking for the green car of the future right now? The wish might not be as outlandish as it sounds. Mini Cooper, the sporty car that stole the spotlight from Charlize Theron and Mark Wahlberg in The Italian Job, gets a whopping 37 miles per gallon. This year Mini introduced the Mini Clubman, a longer, roomier version of the much-ogled classic. Vice President of Mini USA, Jim McDowell, and head of design, Gert Hildebrand, offered up the skinny on the Mini.

The Mini Cooper has done a fantastic job in making small cars seem cool even to Americans. What's the secret?

Jim McDowell: [The Mini] is not like every other car in the market. It has a very unusual and appealing design. People smile when they see them the first time.

Gert Hildebrand: Mini has this classless approach globally. They are accepted everywhere, not only in America. Now we are approaching markets like China.

What reasons do customers give for buying Minis?

JM: In the United States, without a doubt, the most important purchase reason is “It’s fun to drive.” And knowing that you can have so much fun and still get 37 miles per gallon—people feel really good about that.

Who buys Minis?

JM: It trends slightly more male than female. It is a very wide age spectrum. Last year our youngest purchaser was 16 and our oldest was 100. People who buy Minis make a conscious decision to under consume. They could buy a much more expensive car. They could buy a larger car, but they say that, “This is the right choice for me.”

Does Mini have plans to offer a hybrid or maybe a more efficient car in the US?

JM: We are very open to alternative drive trains. We have made no announcements about anything that we will be doing in addition to our current lineup. On the point of hybrids, when you already get 37 miles per gallon, where is the further advantage of adding those heavy batteries to a car and having to deal with the environmental aspects of those batteries at the end of the lifespan? 

If you're comparing a Mini to a Porsche, how fast does the Mini go?

JM: From the red light to across the intersection a Mini Cooper is just as fast as a Porsche.

Do you see more Americans driving small cars in the future or are you just satisfying this niche?

JM: Congress just enacted a requirement that by 2020 the corporate average fuel economy will have to be 35 mpg for cars. I would argue that today's Mini Cooper is in—it already attains that class of fuel economy.

Story by Mark Spellun. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in March 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008