BMW is creating a Mini dealer network to sell the British-made car in the U.S. starting in the first quarter of 2002, says BMW of North America's CEO Tom Purves.

He says a total of 75 Mini dealerships will be franchised, most located along both coasts and across the Sunbelt.

Only BMW dealers are being invited to bid on franchises for the new subcompact. He says that the company has received far more proposals than it has plans to approve. The Mini showrooms must be separate from BMW facilities and have dedicated sales employees. However, back office operations can be consolidated with the BMW business.

Mr. Purves says that if five BMW dealers in a metro area all bid for a Mini franchise, only two or three are likely to get one. The deadline for submission of Mini business proposals was the end of September. By year's end, the dealers will be informed which ones have been selected.

Rich Steinberg, Mini program manager for North America, says BMW seeks to attract new customers with the Mini who can't afford a BMW. He adds that the British-built car will be targeted at trend setting individuals. "We want the Mini to be perceived as unconventional," he says.

The all-new Mini has no carryover parts from the previous generation vehicle. However, it does share some electronics systems with current BMW models.

Mr. Steinberg says the new front-drive mini has been updated for the 21st Century. It is scaled up from the original Mini that was launched in 1959 in response to the fuel shortage caused by the Suez Canal crisis. Some 5.3 million Minis have been sold worldwide, but only 10,000 Minis were sold in America from 1960 until its importation was halted in 1967 because of new safety and emissions regulations.

The original Mini was priced at $1,295 in 1960. BMW executives declined to reveal 2002 prices, but said that a base model would start at about $17,000. BMW plans to build 100,000 Minis in the first full year of manufacture. The U.S. would be one of the top five markets.

Mr. Steinberg says that the new model is not a retro design. "It is larger, more powerful, more muscular and more exciting than its predecessor ever was."