BMW, the owner of the Mini brand, understands the vital importance of the Chinese auto market. And the Chinese government has aggressive goals for electric vehicles. So it’s not surprising that Mini will use a Chinese joint venture to produce two new SUVs: one all-electric and another powered by internal combustion.
The UK’s Autocar reported this week that the two Mini SUVs represent the “biggest shake-up to its operations since coming under BMW ownership in 2001.”
The new electric Mini would be sold in China and exported to other markets, including the UK. There was no definitive word about US sales, although Mini executives view Asia and North America as growth markets.
According to Autocar’s inside source, the new electric SUV will:
- Use a five-door crossover SUV body with dimensions similar to the BMW X1
- Get built on a new co-developed platform rather than an existing architecture
- Use cobalt-free battery cells from SVolt, a former division of Great Wall Motors
- Get named as a “Paceman” variant
The new combustion-engine SUV, which will be larger than the EV, is about the size of a BMW X3. That would be Mini’s largest vehicle yet and well suited to American tastes for larger vehicles.
The publication also speculated that the small Mini electric crossover could replace the BMW i3, without providing further details.
News about BMW working with China’s Great Wall Motor to build EVs was reported in November 2019. The vehicles produced there will be badged both as Mini and Great Wall Motor models.
Construction will take place between 2020 and 2022 – so the new compact-crossover EV could be a couple of years away. The facility, located in Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu Province, will have the capacity to produce 160,000 vehicles annually. The joint venture will also produce batteries.
In a separate development, BMW’s majority-owned Chinese company, BMW-Brilliance, began construction in April of a 3.2-square-kilometer plant in Tiexi, China. That expanded facility will help BMW produce 150,000 EVs a year in China. The list of models to be built in Tiexi includes all-electric versions of the 3-Series and 5-Series sedans, as well as the X1 crossover and another SUV EV.
Meanwhile, back in the USA, Mini started selling the new all-electric SE hatchback in March. The Mini Cooper SE starts at $29,900 before incentives. Its 32.6-kWh battery is good for about 110 miles of range. The Cooper SE’s 181-horsepower motor allows for acceleration from zero to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds.
Autocar reports that the brand is working on a new version of the SE hatchback EV, with longer range and 150-kW fast-charging capability.
In March, we learned that US BMW dealerships nixed plans to bring the iX3 electric SUV to America. The dealers believed the iX3’s 200 or so miles of range would not appeal to US BMW buyers.
Plug-in hybrid Minis are also apparently in the works. A Mini insider told Autocar that its PHEVs would have “a vastly improved electric range.” The new BMW 330e plug-in hybrid has a range of 23 miles, an improvement from the previous version’s 14-mile all-electric distance.
There’s a lot of encouraging EV news in the Autocar story. A new X1-sized Mini built on a new platform with more range and faster charging is a good thing.
It’s also positive that the new model could use cobalt-free batteries, a sign that BMW wants to reduce costs and secure a sustainable supply chain.
EV fans can also see signs of hope that an upcoming Mini Cooper SE will have more range than the current 110 miles, which is clearly behind the times.
Despite these promising developments, the pace of change at BMW is slow, especially after the company backed away from its early leadership in EVs. So we can only get so excited about a new plant under construction in 2020, with vehicles primarily intended for China, not due until 2022.
The wait continues for the BMW i4, which is expected in the US in early 2022. By that time, the Mini showroom could also have new compelling EVs. But given BMW’s flexible and changing strategies, only time will tell for sure.
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