NEW YORK – Installing new robots earlier this year at BMW AG’s Oxford, U.K., plant that assembles the Mini resulted in the loss of two weeks’ production the brand could ill afford, says Jim McDowell, vice president-marketing for BMW of North America LLC.

A temporary shutdown in the body shop has exacerbated an already extremely low inventory as Mini prepares to transition to new models later in the year, McDowell says at last week’s auto show here, where he unveiled a new Mini Cooper S with a John Cooper Works GP kit.

Bertone SpA will assemble the new model with a worldwide production of 2,000 units, of which 415 are earmarked for the U.S., where it will bear a $31,150 price tag.

A shutdown this summer to retool for new models will cause additional production losses and ultimately result in fewer Mini sales in 2006, McDowell reveals.

But he is confident additional volume will be coming, noting the Oxford plant had a capacity of only 100,000 units when it opened – and the U.S. share was 20,000 cars.

Since then, Oxford has increased capacity, producing 200,000 vehicles last year. McDowell says the new robots installed earlier this year will further boost capacity. He also hints other joint ventures, such as the one with Bertone, could increase the supply of Minis.

Mini sold 40,820 vehicles in the U.S. last year, up 13.3% from 2004.

“Our allotment is slightly smaller in 2006,” McDowell says.

Changing robots in the body-in-white shop caused the early 2006 shutdown at Oxford. Because more than half the Minis sold in the U.S. are custom ordered, idling the body shop backed up deliveries.

Normally the wait for custom-ordered vehicles ranges upwards of three months – and can take up to 15 months for some model combinations, McDowell says.

U.S. Mini buyers order $5,000 in hardware options, on average, he says. The average transaction price for a hardtop ranges from $25,000-$27,000. The average transaction price for convertibles is $33,000.

Half of Mini buyers don’t look at any competing cars. McDowell says trade-ins consist largely of the top 10 vehicles sold in the U.S. “We even get quite a few Porsches and Hummers,” he says.

Last fall, Mini showed a concept for a stretched model at the Frankfurt auto show. However, McDowell says that is only one of a number of concepts built in the Mini design studio for evaluation.

As for a Mini pickup in the offing, McDowell says, “don’t limit your thinking to a pickup.”

There will not be a new Mini variant offered this fall, but McDowell hints such models are coming. “I don’t see a pickup as one of the first (variants),” he says.