News : MINI confirms UK electric car production

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

MINI has confirmed that it will build an electric car in the UK, supporting the announcement made at the F56’s launch that it would continue to ‘invest substantially in Cowley’ and other British manufacturing installations. The new car, which is set for launch in 2019, will be an e-version of the current MINI in facelifted form.

The news flies in the face of those who have criticised the UK’s decision to vote for Brexit in 2016, on the grounds that manufacturers would pull out of Britain. Politicians were quick to jump on the decision, with Business Secretary Greg Clark stating it’s a ‘landmark decision’ and ‘vote of confidence’ in the UK.

Why BMW chose the UK

BMW has been subjected to months of lobbying by the UK Government, and supports the workforce at Cowley, which has done such a sterling job in assembling the MINI. Sadly, the electric motors will be imported from Germany, but this means that there will be few changes made to the UK assembly line at Cowley in Oxfordshire.

BMW now makes electric motors and battery packs for all of its electric cars at two sites in Germany, Dingolfing and Landshut, while the current hybrid MINI Countryman is made in Holland.

The UK Government is said to be having similar discussions with the PSA Group over its management of Vauxhall – with Ellesmere Port being touted as a centre of battery excellence, or even as a factory for Jaguar Land Rover, which may struggle for capacity in the UK as it heads towards its goal of making a million cars a year.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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36 Comments

  1. Good news for British industry. Together with the production of the Nissan Leaf, Britain has a hand in proper mass market affordable electric cars, a much more difficult task than making Teslas.

    What a shame that they’re not being made by British owned companies with the profits staying in the country.

  2. Undoubtedly good news. I don’t see the matter of the motors being made in Germany as controversial. At the moment, the volume of electric drive trains that BMW need is very small compared to combustion engines. As the relative quantities change, manufacture of electric drives will spring up elsewhere. It’ll come down to the same criteria as other manufacturing decisions. Cost, quality, government support.

  3. We already make the Nissan Leaf here, which is developing a following among taxi drivers, and there are plans to produce electric Jaguars and Land Rovers, so making an electric Mini means Britain will have electric cars in four important sectors. Also with Toyota and Honda making hybrids in Britain, the British car industry will be well represented in the electric and hybrid sectors, which are set to really grow over the next ten years.

  4. The really astonishing fact is that BMW are manufacturing their own electric engines/powertrains instead of buying them in from specialists like ContiTeves. No matter how far I stretch my phantasy can I imagine how an electric engine would be a character defining feature of any car in the way the combustion engine is today, particularly for BMW. An electric engine is no more individual or charcter defining than a tyre or a brake disc is today, therefore I see no reason why any car manufacturer whould build his own electric engines. Particularly not at the moment where technology is not yet set and development costs are high.

    • For a lot of engine components – common rails, sensors etc. are made by a handful of companies to specifications.

      Do you see the future being that companies will specialise in building electric motors, with car manufacturers buying them off the shelf?

      • Car makers are buying in everything they think is not essential to the character of a car. Wheels, brakes, gearboxes, electrical/electronical infrastructure. Where charcter is not a defining feature of the car even compete vehicles are bought in. On the other hand, specialists like ZF are making complete hybrid gearbox/electric motor units and are preparing to make complete electrical powertrains.
        As I can’t see drivers of electric cars dreaming about their battery packs or electric motors in the way lovers of old Alfas, air cooled Porsches or XK engined Jaguars do, there is no reason not to buy in these componentes for electric vehicles. The only differentiating feature will be the visible body of the car, the rest is from suppliers.

    • It doesn’t astonish me, BMW means Bavarian engine factory – it’s their core business. They cannot afford to give away a huge amount of added value to a supplier. They want that profit for themselves and want to be leaders in that technology.

  5. The government edict ( no doubt devised in part by civil servants who have never done a proper day’s work in their lives ) smacks, like so much else , of ill thought out rhetoric. Just where is all this extra electrical energy to come from – without increasing carbon emissions ? Even on a very conservative estimate it will require perhaps 70 billion KwH per year. I have no real idea what proportion of existing generating capacity this represents , but it must be something of the order of at least an extra 20 per cent. And what happens when in winter everyone comes home and plugs their electric car in …….do all the lights go out? oh, and what if the wind isn’t blowing ? Spare me!!

    • Power plants are running overnight with plenty excess capacity. I wouldn’t worry about that. Electric vehicles are without doubt the way to go. Simpler machines and lower cost of ownership. Carbon emissions can be all at the power plant where it can be captured and have emission controls in place there at the source not all over cities and towns polluting our air.

    • Bureaucrats and professional Greens seemingly were sick for a lot of time during their school years, particularly during physics and chemistry classes. Electrical energy for these people is something that comes from the wall socket. The simple fact that electrical energy is the product of voltage times current times hours of charging time is beyond their recognition. Of all these Duracell car fanatics, I’ve yet to find one who can explain how they want to manage the voltages and currents necessary to get the electrical energy needed for proper operative ranges into a car in an acceptable time.

      • “Of all these Duracell car fanatics, I’ve yet to find one who can explain how they want to manage the voltages and currents necessary to get the electrical energy needed for proper operative ranges into a car in an acceptable time.”

        Hear, hear.

  6. Surely a better compromise would be to move to hybrid technology for larger cars such as the Ford Mondeo, where drivers often need to travel long distances and the battery range is too poor, and as an alternative for people who don’t want the hassle of a purely electric car. However, technology evolves and no doubt by 2040, there’ll be batteries that need to be charged once a year, probably at the annual service.
    Come to think of it, by the middle part of this century, it’s likely service technicians could start to go the way of miners in the middle of the last century as tasks such as changing oil, replacing filters and checking exhaust emissions will become redundant. Most likely a service in 2050 will involve checking the battery for leaks, giving it an annual charge and checking the brakes and suspension, far simpler and less labour intensive than now.

    • If we want battery powered cars that deliver the same flexibility in use, mainly the same range as flssil fuel powered ones, we also need a new set of laws of physics. Any decent car driven for a distance of, say, 350 to 400 miles non stop would need around 120 to 150 kWh on board. If you want to recharge such a car within acceptable 5 to 10 minutes, you will need dangerously high voltages of enormous currents, probably both. Not so nice if you wear a pacemaker. This alone will make it impractical to have battery powered cars for everyday use. That is even before you think about how to get these large amounts of energy to the “refuelling” station (which would need cables thicker than a large tree). The battery powered electric car is a dead end niche product for limited use. To make electric motive power a valuable alternative we need ways of storing primary energy in the car and make the conversion to electric energy on board, like fuel cell cars do. By the way, what happened to the Honda FCV, the most advanced electro car ever?

      • Dave : my calculation was based on a rather more modest car than yours, but the comparison is still interesting, because our independent approaches produce a not all that different result. I worked on a need for 7.5kW at 40 mph plus say 50% for acceleration, lighting, heating etc which equates to about 4 miles per kWh. For 30 million vehicles on an average 8000 miles per year this produces in round figures a need for 70 billion kWh per year not presently generated. The only feasible option for this to be done atmospherically cleanly in the timescale is the nuclear option which many abhor for other reasons . I suppose in the long term that tidal energy may be the answer, but I do not see that happening by 2040

        • I don’t think your calculations are differing too far.
          If you want everyone to go electric, you will need to offer cars that fulfill today’s average needs.
          If you take a BMW i3, which is a thoroughly nasty car operating only at low speed and ridiculous operative range, you see a battery of 33 kWh. The biggest Tesla has just below 100 kWh and still has an impractical range and can’t be driven at any serious speed without completely losing the range. Therefore we can assume that any car that wants to be taken seriously would have to carry around 150 kWh of electrical energy. If you want to recharge this in ten minutes (and any charging time longer than the time needed to refill a conventional car won’t be accepted by customers) you would need an electrical power of around 1,000 kW for these ten minutes. 1,000 kW means either 1,000 volts and 1,000 ampères or any other combination of numbers that add up to one millon watts. Up to now, nobody was able to explain how they would handle this. The typical Green answer would be to use induction, which obviously is not a solution to the problem…
          If you imagine an average refuelling station at the side of an Autobahn with 40 to 50 refilling positions, wou would need 40,000 kW as a permanend power supply. If you allow for longer recharging times, you would need more postions, so the problem won’t go away. Just think about the cables needed for these electrical currents, the electromagnatical field strengths we are talking about and the safety measures needed for handling these voltages and currents.

          • Dave : I think we are in absolute agreement. I envisage are slightly different charging regime from yours, in that most people would have a fast charging system at home , as indeed my daughter-in-law has for her i3( and at least that has a get you home motor ) . But that is nothing like as fast a charge as you envisage, and of course the infrastructure demand to provide every house with the necessary cabling would be enormous

          • Your calculations are valid for “worst case” models of driving and transportation, those drivers making long individual journeys and time constrained, ie at speed.
            Many urban journeys by car are only a few miles and therefore suitable for the electric car. Residing in London a Nissan Leaf would meet 99% of my motoring journeys. For health reasons I bought a bike (an Alex Moulton TSR) on a 20 mile round trip Tower Bridge to Sidcup the bike matches the car time door to door times, below 5 miles, the bike beats the car nearly every trip.

  7. As per other comments on this page where is the electric going to come from to power these vehicles? Fusion technology has been put back to commercial viability until 2060, solar and wind cant produce enough to cope with our current needs and there is not an infinite supply of minerals to make batteries to hold the power either!

    • There’s also the more reliable tidal and geothermal.

      If I got an electric car I’d put solar panels on the garage roof and get fuel for free – trouble is if everyone does that the government would get no fuel tax (and are they really planning on not taxing electricity for road use, if so how soon before road pricing to compensate, etc?)

      It’s interesting to speculate on what will happen to service garages – OK the drivetrain will be simpler/more reliable but other car systems will continue to wear out and there will be requirements for crash repair, etc.

      • Your lucky you have a garage – where are the people who park in the street going to charge up? It is unfortunately a poorly thought our problem.

        The real issue which the government don’t want to deal with is pollution from commercial vehicles, aircraft and agriculture. If these were taken out of the equation, pollution from cars would actually be a lot less meaning range extender vehicles would be the best option until they can come up with a way to separate Hydrogen from Water efficiently.

    • You make good points Dave… I’ve also wondered about the escalation in vehicle battery manufacture. The technology will no doubt overcome it but at my age, I’m less likely to witness it! I guess I’ll continue to drive a petrol car for the rest of my days

  8. Good news, but at the end of the day, BMW makes 230000 (or so) Minis in Cowley, which is the capacity. It’s not as if these will be additional vehicles made there

      • Pretty sure no Mini models have ever been made in Germany

        Originally some models (like the Countryman) were contract made by Steyr in Austria, now they are contract made by VDL Nedcar in the the Netherlands. This is due to lack of capacity at Cowley.

  9. BMW will continue investment in other UK sites, presumably Swindon and Goodwood, but what about Hams Hall? I guess the UK government hasn’t got a plan for that or facilitating expansion of Cowley…

  10. Utilisation of a typical car when measured in hours is around 5%, the other 95% the car is simply ” parked up”, ample time to recharge the battery subject to suitable recharging infrastructure.
    Many journeys are just a few miles and within the range of the battery packs which will be developed over the next few years.
    Long journeys need range extenders, for those occasional long journeys why not use a small generator to tow behind the battery powered car?
    Computers obeyed Moore’s Law, halving in cost etc on a two year cycle, the battery makers think Moore’s Law for batteries is 6 or 7 years, a battery pack may drop by 80 % by the year 2040.
    The year 2040 is not the elimination year of petrol/diesel cars, it is the intended end of sales of NEW petrol/diesel cars, 2039 may be the final years of being able to purchase a NEW petrol or diesel car

    • What if those five percent of utilisation are done in way that a battery powered car can’t deliver and never will deliver?
      People don’t buy the available electro vehicles for two reasons: they are expensive (that will get better over time) and they are impractical to use (that won’t get better because the laws of physics won’t change, at least not for the foreseeable future).
      In business I cooperate with a company running the largest fleet of Teslas worldwide as company cars (some 25 or so). I had an appointment at a customer with one of the Tesla drivers. He got a phone call from his wife, asking him to get a crate of mineral water on his way back home. He answered that he couldn’t do that because he already had driven the kids to school in the morning and his oh so futuristic Tesla wouldn’t do the additional miles. And this from someone who has to do some mere 45 miles from home to office and some 15 miles from office to customer. Small wonder these cars don’t sell as a replacement for today’s average everyday car, and that’s before you look at the prices.

  11. I made two points in my first comment.No-one is addressing the second point. How will Britain proceed as an economy if it doesn’t own it’s own industry. The profits from incredibly successful Nissan Leaf sales and electric MINI sales will not be going to Britain. They will be going to the overseas owners.

    • Although if history is anything to go by, if these where in British Ownership they would be complete basket cases making horrendous losses and no hope of being able to fund investment in a minor facelift never mind an electric power train. I’m more than happy to see these plants thriving providing sustainable, high skill jobs in foreign ownership.

      • Just like JBL or Triumph Motorcycles or Rolls Royce Holdings or British Petroleum? There’s more to business than jobs, there’s company profits. Some British companies can do it, why not more? What happened that so many British companies had inept management?

  12. I wouldn’t be surprised by 2040 that batteries will probably only need to be charged at the annual service. The technology will constantly improve to make electric cars more attractive. I think it’s only really the short range and long charging time that makes the cars unattractive at the moment, as they are almost silent on the move, have fewer mechanical parts to go wrong, aren’t affected by rises in fuel prices, and, of course, have zero emissions.

    • Glenn : I don’t want to be disputatious, but there are too many problems with your thesis :

      1.If you can change the laws of physics so that a battery will store a minimum of , say, 2000 kwH and hold that charge for a year then the biggest future since Einstein ( or perhaps Faraday ) awaits you

      2.The reduction in mechanical parts is counteracted by a very large increase in both electrical motors ( fairly reliable ) and electronic controls ( notoriously unreliable )

      3. Aren’t affected by fuel prices ???? If only my electricity bill was what it was 30 years ago

      4.Zero emissions ? I presume you are thinking that the electricy will all be generated without resort to fossil fuels…some hope unless we go for the nuclear option, and we are already too late for that to be ready in sufficient quantity by 2040

  13. The elephant in the room that nobody is talking about…

    That the government is talking to PSA about Ellesmere Port becoming a JLR factory. They would not be doing this unless PSA had told them the future of the factory is in doubt (which it unboubtedly is if 10% tariffs come in when we leave the EU because all engines are imported from the EU and 80% of output is exported to the EU).

  14. Everyone (and not just on this forum) keeps high-lighting the battery recharging time as being an insurmountable hurdle on the way to totally electric cars.

    But isn’t it highly likely that battery packs would become standardised across the industry AND also designed for a quick exchange at the ‘filling stations’ of the future ?

    Picture this:- you drive in; you position your vehicle over a plate on the floor, the plate rises and locks onto your depleted battery pack; the battery pack is extracted onto the plate and disappears below the floor; a replacement fully charged battery pack is slid onto the plate below the floor; the plate rises and attaches this fresh battery pack into your vehicle; you drive away.

    The whole operation could be accomplished in less than a minute.

    The discharged battery packs could then be transported to the local solar-powered recharging facility and fresh ones recycled back to the ‘filling station’ of the future.

    It just needs Shell, BP, Google, the govt, etc to decide this is the way to go and to get on with it.

    • The insurmountable hurdle are not the recharging times by themselves. Recharging times are the logical result of insurmountable physical limitations that do not go away by simply moving the recharing process somwhere else.
      Do two simple caldulations: a current powercharger delivers 35 kW (ten times the power of a household wall socket), which leads to these unacceptable charging times even for today’s ridiculously small batteries, let along for cars carrying battery packs necessary for an acceptable operative range. What electrical power (kW) would a charger need to deliver acceptable charging times of less than a quarter of an hour? What voltages and currents would we talk about then and how would these be handled?

      You want to go solar? A contemporary solar panel delivers around 700 Wh per day and square meter under optimum conditions. How many square meters of solar panels do you intend to install to charge a presumed number of 100 battery packs of 150 kWh each in an acceptable time at these central charging stations?

  15. There was a very interesting article in a Munich (the home of BMW) newspaper. Munich’s city administration is going to heavily subsidise the purchase of electrical taxis by up to 40 percent of their price over three years.
    Owners of a taxi license are also allowed to have two cars on one license, one being the electrical one and the other a conventional car with a combustion engine.
    Why? Because taxi companies would have to send customers away if these wanted to go on a longer trip and the taxi’s batteries were not fully charged or the trip would be longer than the taxi’s battery range. Taxi companies also insist on a backup solution if the electro taxi gets stranded with an empty battery.
    In these cases they would be allowed to use the conventional car as an emergency fix to get their customers where they want.
    To my eyes, this looks like a silly idea if ever there was one.
    The larger taxi companies also state that they would need at least double and up to three times the current number of cars and drivers for the same carrying capacity because the cars spend such a lot of time at the charging stations.

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