John Cranage, Birmingham Post, 4th September, 2009
The recession-battered motor industry was boosted yesterday when BMW announced plans to build two new variants of the MINI in the UK. The news was seen as a strong endorsement by the German premium carmaker’s faith in its British “manufacturing triangle” which builds MINIs at Oxford, with engines from Hams Hall, near Birmingham, and body panels from Swindon.
BMW Chief Executive Norbert Reithofer said two MINI concept cars to be unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show this month would be built at Oxford. One is the MINI Coupe, images of which were released last week, but BMW refused to give details of the second new model. It is believed it might be a “sporty” two-seater version of the MINI Cabriolet.
Yesterday’s announcement was particularly welcome because a third new MINI variant, the Crossover, a small SUV, will be built in Austria by contract assembler Magna Steyr. That was taken as a sign that future investment in the brand would be made outside the UK.
Industry analyst Professor Baback Yazdani, however, believed such forecasts were wide of the mark. “The centre of gravity for MINI is here in the UK,” he said. “It has proved to be a very successful product and this is fantastic news.” Prof. Yazdani, Dean of Nottingham Business School and a former Jaguar Land Rover executive, said: “BMW has put its faith in the long-term development of its operations in the UK.”
The centre of gravity for MINI is here in the UK. It has proved to be a very successful product and this is fantastic news. BMW has put its faith in the long-term development of its operations in the UK.” Professor Baback Yazdani, Dean of Nottingham Business School
BMW yesterday declined to say how much it was investing in expanding output at Oxford or how many jobs were likely to be created. The factory employs about 3,500 people. However, with the models produced at the former Morris works at Cowley growing from three to five, a second assembly line employing thousands is likely to be needed.
Even without the new models, BMW Oxford, to give the plant its official title, has staged a remarkable recovery since February when falling volumes resulted in 850 temporary workers being laid off amid acrimonious scenes. Sales of MINI globally have rebounded – Oxford is operating six days a week with an occasional Sunday shift. Most of the laid-off workers have been rehired, the company confirmed yesterday.
BMW spokesman Graham Biggs said: “When two new models are brought to our factory, that’s always a significant thing. What it talks about is investment in the UK and expansion of BMW’s UK manufacturing base. More widely, it is good news for the British auto industry and British manufacturing in general.”
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said: “The production of two new MINIs is good news for Oxford and for the UK car industry. It is a demonstration of BMW’s long-term commitment to the UK.”
[Source: Birmingham Post]
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