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Mini Clubvan gets the green light for production

2013 Mini ClubvanThe Countryman Coupe is not the only new Mini on the way. BMW just can’t stop introducing new variants of its pint-sized city car; the latest is a production version of the Clubvan concept shown at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show. The Mini van will go on sale in the United States next year.

The Clubvan is basically a Mini Clubman with a commercial-grade cargo area instead of rear seats. The only other differences are the aluminum bulkhead that separates the front seats from the cargo area, and the polycarbonate panels (great for signage) that replace the side windows. With its vertical-split rear hatch and rear-hinged third door, the Clubman was pretty close to being a van already.

The Clubvan’s interior will be customizable; buyers will be able to specify storage drawers and 12-volt outlets.

In Europe, the Clubvan will come in three trim levels. Clubvan One will come with a 98 horsepower gasoline engine. Upgrading to Cooper Clubvan nets a more powerful version of the Mini four-cylinder, with 122 hp. Europeans will also get a 112 hp diesel in the Cooper D Clubvan.

All versions will come standard with a six-speed manual transmission; a six-speed automatic will be optional.

Clearly, this Mini is all about work. No turbocharged Cooper S or track-tuned John Cooper Works versions will be offered. Given the plethora of sporty cars Mini already makes, that is sensible, but it’s hard not to imagine equipping a delivery service with some small, nimble turbocharged Clubvans.

Mini did not say which engines will be available in U.S.-spec Clubvans, or how much the mini delivery vehicles will cost. Those details will be revealed when the Clubvan makes its official debut at the Paris Motor Show this fall.

Small vans are very popular in Europe, the land of narrow streets and high gas prices. Fuel economy will probably be the Clubvan’s strongest selling point in the U.S. businesses that don’t need a full-size van could save a significant amount of money by downsizing. A 2012 Cooper Clubman with the six-speed automatic is rated at 30 mpg combined, while a six-cylinder Chevrolet Express only gets 17.

However, the Clubvan will face stiff competition from a new crop of small vans. Ford’s Transit Connect has slowly been winning over commercial drivers since it was launched here in 2009. Nissan is bringing its NV200 mini-minivan to the States as well. Both vans have optional electric powertrains (the Ford as an aftermarket conversion).

The Ford is slightly larger, and offers much more cargo room: 135 cubic inches compared to the Clubvan’s 32.8. That does not mean the market can’t support more than one small van; the Mini will probably be easier to drive and park than the Ford.

Of course, if gas prices go down, and stay down, businesses may flock back to their big vans.