News that BMW is to axe production of the MINI Electric and relocate it to China has seriously derailed the UK’s intention to spearhead what disgraced former Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the ‘£1bn electric car revolution.’
The final UK-built MINI Electric will roll off the line at Cowley next year, leaving the factory producing an all-ICE line-up. It seems like an odd decision given the European market’s headlong rush into its electric future – but China and Korea are where the fastest EV progress is being made, and where the majority of the world’s battery packs are sourced.
From a global perspective, the move makes sense for BMW, but it does rather leave Cowley reliant on BMW sticking to its word and continuing to keep faith with the plant. The BMW Group’s Head of MINI brand, Stefanie Wurst, says that ‘Oxford will always be the home of Mini.’ Hmm…
Cowley MINI production: good beyond 2030?
However, one can’t help but think its future could well be limited unless BMW commits to a reintroduction of EV production in the UK in 2030 when the final ICE-engined MINI rolls off the line. With the current state of the UK economy and the lack of a Brexit trade deal with the EU still playing heavy on BMW’s mind (despite the public denials), one can see the company cutting Cowley loose as a volume production site for MINIs.
Yes, the factory will get the next MINI from 2025, with the company confirming that the next-gen Cooper and Convertible will be built here, but it does rather set Cowley’s future into a fixed timeline. Let’s face it, 2030 isn’t that far away.
And the verdict is still out on the UK’s electric car future as it stands today. Britishvolt’s plans for a large-scale battery plant in the north-east of England are faltering and in need of a bailout, yet Stellantis has confirmed that Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant will be the centre of EV operations here in the UK.
What’s the political endgame?
But with politics in turmoil, and Tory Secretaries of State coming and going with increasing speed and desperation, the industrial policy of encouraging EV production and development here looks to be taking a back seat.
Boris Johnson’s starry-eyed COP26 promise that we’ll see hundreds of thousands of green energy jobs in the UK now looks increasingly hollow as we stare down the barrel of Prime Minister Truss/Hunt/Sunak/Mordaunt/whoever’s oncoming austerity.
Before the current ruinous shenanigans in Westminster, one sensed there was a desire to see the UK car industry ‘go electric’. Prime Ministers May and Johnson and the former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng all expressed optimism that this would happen – but that now seems to be slipping away.
An alternative future for Cowley?
The future of Cowley had been put under the spotlight when reports emanated from Germany that BMW was looking to sell it to Joint Venture partner Great Wall, which has lofty European ambitions.
But the company issued a denial, telling the Financial Times, ‘As we move towards becoming an all-electric brand by 2030, Oxford is an integral part of this strategy. Oxford plays a key role in the production strategy of the BMW Group with its high flexibility, competitiveness and competence — also with regard to electromobility.’
So, MINI and Cowley will remain synonymous and are safe beyond 2030, despite the current move away from EV production? Yes, but I’m not so sure it’ll look like it does now. I’m confident, though, that MINI-badged cars will be built there beyond that year – albeit maybe not in the volumes we’re currently used to – and possibly alongside some future Great Wall products. GWM Ora Funky Cats (below) look like something you’d see being built here – assuming geo-politics play nicely for a little longer.