Even as the rest of the industry - including its parent company, BMW - contracts, Mini USA is getting ready to expand with 17 new dealerships across the country. The new outlets will bring the total up to an even hundred.

Bigger cities and markets completely new to Mini are the focus for the expansion, the better to capitalize on new sales. “Starting in 2011, our aim is to raise MINI sales by a ‘double-digit’ percentage compared with last year’s total of 54,077 cars delivered and this will correspond with a substantial expansion of our network coverage," said Mini USA Vice President Jim McDowell.

That goal doesn't indicate that demand is currently at those levels, however - merely that Mini hopes to push demand to double-digit growth from 2011. That's a big gamble, giving the economy just 18 months to recover to a position of growth.

On the other hand, as the economy and industry falter, cars like the Mini, which offer a great deal of utility while still remaining small, light and therefore efficient, will become more attractive to the average consumer, potentially increasing Mini's market share, and therefore sales, even as industry-wide sales total fall or stay flat.

McDowell is already on board that train of thought. "I have often said that the world is becoming more MINI every day, and I believe that that sentiment is true, now more than ever, as consumer tastes shift decidedly to cars that offer tremendous value. Our cars are not only fuel efficient, and offer great value, but they also provide a fun and dynamic motoring experience and are packed with personality.”

The first dealership will be built in Birmingham, Alabama. The remaining 16 dealerships will be spread across the U.S., with a focus on the southern, northeastern and far western regions.