By Douglas Crowl

It’s good to be mini, at least in the car business. While American car companies close lots and shutter dealerships, MINI has opened 14 since 2002, making 82 dealerships in the United States. It plans to have 100 new lots by December 2010.

Its second dealership in Colorado broke ground Wednesday in Loveland – an 11,000-square-foot building at the Motorplex at Centerra near Interstate 25 and Crossroads Boulevard, next to Co’s BMW Center, which also will own the MINI dealership.

The groundbreaking came on the exact day of MINI’s 50th birthday.

The Loveland deal, which was several years in the making, reflects the overall growth the British-spawned, BMW-owned company has planned for the United States, said Gary Terlecki, MINI USA regional business manager.

“We are very well received in the U.S.,” Terlecki said, adding the little car has a cultlike following among Americans.

Many MINI lovers showed up for the groundbreaking Wednesday and drove their little cars in an informal parade around the Centerra development.

This enthusiasm for the product has recently made the United States the biggest buyer of MiniCoopers worldwide through its 82 dealerships, which will justify the additional dealerships around the country, Terlecki said.

When MINI of Loveland opens in spring 2010, it is scheduled to become the 93rd dealership in the country, Terlecki said. It is one of at least nine new dealerships in the construction process, Terlecki said.

The company goal of 100 dealerships by 2010 will accommodate 78,000 cars sold in the United States annually, up from 54,000 last year.

By that time, MINI’s new four-wheel drive, four-door car – which has been aptly code named “Colorado” but not officially named – will be on the market, Terlecki said.

In Loveland, Terlecki expects Northern Colorado to be good for 300 to 400 MINI sales a year. “But I’m a little more optimistic than that,” said Co Van Herwaarden, founder of Co’s Automotive Group. His daughters, Christina Dawkins and Rosalie Van Herwaarden will own and operate MINI of Loveland.

Van Herwaarden said the family wants to move 1,000 cars a year through the dealership, which includes used-car sales, but they will have to settle for smaller numbers until production increases.

Acquiring MINI to join the BMW dealership has been in the crosshairs of the Van Herwaarden family for years because they are in short supply in Colorado, said Rosalie Van Herwaarden.

“I think the market is going to be very strong. It has good gas mileage, and it’s fun to drive,” she said. “It also has a great following. The owners get so excited, and we wanted to incorporate that with the customers we had.”

Opening the second Colorado dealership in Northern Colorado is sentimental, Co Van Herwaarden said.

Like Co, MINI USA Vice President Jim McDowell is a University of Northern Colorado graduate.

He said the seeds of MINI of Loveland were planted seven years ago when Co was river rafting with McDowell, who was then working with BMW, and the two became friends.

When McDowell moved over to MINI and unveiled plans to expand the company in the United States, Northern Colorado was likely on his radar, Co Van Herwaarden said.

Co’s BMW Center began formally seeking the MINI dealership about four years ago.