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BYLINE: BY BILL DIBENEDETTO
Walk into the Mini Cooper dealership in Tacoma, Wash., and it's quickly evident that it is not your typical new car lot. Like the vehicle itself, the showroom and lot is small but efficient. It's not the usual box-shaped glass building surrounded by a massive parking log crammed with new cars, a phalanx of salespeople and enormous overhead.
There are only a few new models to be seen, and those include the demos. The showroom has one or two new cars. A few used Minis might be around.
If you're a customer ready to buy after an exhilarating test drive, you sit with the salesperson at a computer screen and design your car - model, engine, interior, color scheme, options - from the ground up. Assembly is then scheduled, and the car is delivered several months later.
To a large degree, Mini has solved the massive inventory and storage problems that dog automakers, their suppliers and their dealers. Getting the supply-demand equation to balance in the auto industry, and with it the cost of inventory management, is the industry's constant battle.
Automotive logistics is beset by a host …