BMW plans to limit US sales of its UK-built Mini small cars to about 24,000 next year to spur demand and keep resale values high, an executive for the brand said, according to Bloomberg News.

The brand's US general manager Jack Pitney told Bloomberg that BMW expects to sell about 22,000 Mini Coopers in the US this year, after they debuted at the end of March.

Mini could sell about 32,000 cars a year in the US at the current rate, Autodata Corporation told Bloomberg.

"It's a brilliant strategy to keep the car in short supply," AutoPacific analyst Jim Hall told Bloomberg. "You don't want to keep it in such short supply that people blow it off but they've done a good job of balancing it so far."

Bloomberg said BMW, known for its luxury vehicles, starts Mini prices at $US16,975 and wants the cars to attract buyers who haven't previously bought its models.

About 85% of Mini buyers hadn't purchased a BMW before, Pitney told Bloomberg.

The Mini Cooper is intended to be the first of several models for the brand and BMW can sell about 130,000 Minis worldwide next year, he added, according to the news agency.

Pitney told Bloomberg that BMW, which sold 18,606 Minis in the US to the end of October, has buyers for about 75% of the cars before they reach showrooms.

The short supply contributes to an Automobile Lease Guide estimate that 2002 Minis will retain about 61% of their value after three years, the highest rate for any US vehicle from the model year, Bloomberg said.

Nextrend analyst Chris Cedergren told Bloomberg News that Mini may increase US sales to 100,000 vehicles a year by 2010, when the brand is expected to have added models such as a convertible, a station wagon and maybe a pickup.

“Right now if they had 60,000 available in the US they'd blow them right out the door," Cedergren added, according to Bloomberg News.

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