Owned and engineered by BMW and possessing more motoring clichés than might be healthy, highlights Iain Robertson, it is easy to be cynical about the latest Mini EV but I have to admit that, even at £27,900 (list price), it looks kind of ‘cute’!
BMW is a company for which I hold both a healthy regard and a total loathing, in near equal measure. Allow me to explain…BMW is a private company majority-owned by the super-wealthy Quandt family, with a plethora of German shareholders that keep the firm moderately buoyant. I admire much of its business model, which was established by the Quandts, when they acquired it 60 years ago, just as it was going bankrupt.
However, the arrogant manner by which it produces new motorcars and ‘expects’ its customers to carry out final proving on its behalf is just unacceptable to me. BMW is one of the Teutonic Big Three that includes Audi and Mercedes-Benz in its cadre. While the descriptive term, ‘premium’, is an unfortunate Americanism, these three brands are defined by it. As a result, thanks to a snifter of market cobbling, they operate cross-brand model and price parity exercises, which make them quite expensive overall.
BMW is a company to which ecological science is second nature. It is a most admirable feature. For decades, it has sought to produce some of the most fuel-efficient and cleanest motorcars on the planet. Therefore, its carefully judged moves into hybrid and electric vehicle technology are not just understandable market shifts but are directly linked to its new model development programmes.
Unveiled at its Oxford manufacturing plant, which was originally home to the Issigonis Mini no less than 60 years ago, the new Mini Electric is said to have 15,000 clamouring customers worldwide ready to invest in an example. Manufacturing will commence later this year, with first deliveries being made in spring 2020, as BMW confirms its commitment to electrification. In fact, the company will have 25 EVs and hybrids on the roads by 2023, exceeding its own projections by two years.
Interestingly, the Mini Electric will be fully integrated into Oxford’s production line processes, even using the same lines as the conventional Mini alternatives. Operating to Just-in-Time (JIT) standards, the plant will be able to react to model demand very quickly, a factor that will help to retain a vital element of affordability and profitability. Of course, by the time the customary personalisation programme has been factored into the consumer’s invoice, a Mini EV is still going to sell at well in excess of £30k, so the description ‘cost-effective’ is unlikely to enter the frame, as that figure is ridiculously steep for such an impractical and compact car.
Fortunately, the car is recognisable instantly as a three-door Mini Hatch, with the notable exceptions of its blanked-off radiator grille, the fluorescent trim details and the ‘three-pin-plug’ alloy wheels. While its status as an automotive fashion item is already well-established and solid worldwide sales keep the production lines busy (not just in the UK), its ‘retro-appeal’ has already started to diminish. It promises performance figures that are close to those of the hot hatch Cooper S, zipping from 0-60mph in a cool 7.1s, although its maximum speed is capped to ‘save’ energy…actually, to reduce energy depletion and boost the range slightly. As an ideal city runabout, its ultimate range of around 150-miles, allied to fast-charging potential (domestic overnight, otherwise), should prove more than adequate. However, be aware that the battery pack is a space-robber, in an already sorely cramped hatchback. At best, the Mini Electric is a two-seater with a moderate boot.
BMW has priced the Mini Electric fairly, by today’s standards for the EV sector, and, much as the BMW i3 model has proven, it will be promoting the viability of all-inclusive leasing, for which a choice of programmes commencing at less than £300 per month will be available. When you consider that the Mini Electric owner will never visit a petrol/diesel station again, it seems like a conspicuously good deal. Its stated list price is from around £24,400, after the UK government’s £3,500 Plug-In Car Grant has been applied, which suggests that it will fall into the less costly EV arena, all makes and models of which are stupidly overpriced.
Conveniently for BMW (and other EV players), recent research has revealed that more than 1.5m UK households are perfectly suited to running an electric car but are not yet doing so. They have off-street parking, which allows easier at-home recharging, and more than one car in the household, one of which never drives more than 100 miles daily. BMW’s own data highlights that the average distance driven each day is a mere 26 miles, thereby the new Mini Electric could be a convenient tipping point for motorists contemplating EV operation. However, this is just one more facet of a raft of pro-EV promotional hype, which I would urge that you consume with a very large glass of eco-friendly water.
A little over a decade ago, I drove a first-generation Mini Cooper D to Munich, Germany (the HQ for BMW), to drive the company’s pre-emptive Mini EV, which may give some idea as to the model gestation period, bearing in mind that the car I would be driving had already been three years in development. It was promising then but over the subsequent period of time the car has been refined and made dynamically superior, even though only minor design changes have actually taken place.
The big issues to be answered by EV manufacturers will always be range anxiety and list prices that seldom seem to reduce, while those ‘that can’ use the opportunity to hike-up the price tags of their fossil-fuelled alternatives in some vain attempt to close the gap. Rest assured, the day of reckoning is approaching and at some speed!
Conclusion: The impact of EVs in the UK remains at a low ebb but cars like the Mini Electric can provide an important nudge in the right direction for some buyers. The sage advice is still to look before you leap.