As the US car shows signs moving towards small, fashionable and fuel-efficient vehicles, BMW's Mini unit is preparing its first electric vehicles for launch there in 2009 with a small crossover utility vehicle to follow.

Mini would also like to offer a diesel engine if it can develop one that gets at least 50mpg on the highway in EPA tests and meets strict emissions standards in California and northeast states, Jim McDowell, vice president of Mini USA, told the Detroit Free Press earlier this week.

That may not be too hard. According to Mini UK's website, the 1.6-litre Cooper D turbodiesel hatchback sold this side of the Atlantic gets 80.7mpg (larger imperial gallons, remember) on the 'official' EU 'extra-urban' test cycle with six-speed manual gearbox and 67.3mpg with the optional five-speed automatic. Even the 'urban' figures are 60.1 and 43.5 respectively.

"The world is moving in our direction," McDowell told the newspaper. "The overall market is down 10%, but small-car sales are up 11%. People are trading in Ford F-150s and Hummers for Minis."

He told the paper Mini would allocate dealers and extra 2,000 to 3,000 cars this year after US sales soared 33.9% to 26,400 in the first half.

Minis sell within four days of reaching dealers and the company is almost out of US inventory, he added.

Mini would have electrically powered versions in the hands of "real customers" in the US within a year, the Detroit Free Press said, noting that BMW announced last week it would ship 500 electric Minis over.

The company is still evaluating where to offer the cars and whether to lease or sell them, McDowell told the paper.

The crossover expected to debut at the Paris show in October will be small and low and keep the visual cues that are hallmarks of the Mini's design, McDowell said.

"I can imagine a Mini that's 13 1/2 feet long," McDowell he told the paper, adding that the crossover will be low slung to promote the sharp handling that distinguishes Mini models.

He added he could imagine six different models in the model line "as long as each does something different" and suggested a small pickup may be in the future.

"I could see them with five or six models, including a funky little pickup," he told the Detroit Free Press.