I’ve been to a bunch of auto shows, and for the most part, they are pretty disappointing. But that is because I’ve been going to the wrong auto shows. If you go to the one in your city and your city isn’t New York, Detroit, or Los Angeles, you just get the same cars as you would see if you went to the dealer. It is nice because you see them all in one place, but you rarely get to see anything special or talk to the executives at the different companies.
I went to the Los Angeles Auto Show on media day and it was a totally different experience. I got to see many concept cars and newly released cars that aren’t yet at the car dealers. I got to speak to the worldwide head of design at the second largest automaker in the world (Klaus Bischoff at VW). I also got the chance not just to get a detailed look at the New Mini Cooper, but to meet with two product specialists who took the time to answer all of my technical and marketing questions.
A Very Short History Of Mini & The New Mini Electric
They explained that Mini was started as a reaction to the Suez Canal Crisis in the late 1950s, as a small affordable car that got good gas mileage. Later, they found they were fun to drive and the company enhanced them for racing. I know them for the extreme customization offered (you can configure them with thousands of combinations of individual options, like the color of the shift knob, letting you build a very unique car).
2020 Mini Electric
When the latest Mini EV was announced last summer, I didn’t pay much attention for a couple of reasons. First of all, it didn’t seem like it had a lot of new technology, and secondly, it’s easy to dismiss products that have smaller batteries.
The Mini team put the technology from a BMW i3 into a modified Mini Cooper platform. After getting the chance to see the car in person, it changed my mind. It’s not a car like the Tesla Model 3 that will sell millions. But I think it will meet the needs of a lot of people, if those people think to look at it.
The target market for this car is someone who wants a stylish and affordable EV that is a blast to drive, but who lives in a household that has more than one vehicle (80% of households in the US). I had a Nissan Leaf with 50 to 70 miles of range (which is 30 to 50 miles of usable range, since you need to keep 20 miles in reserve to avoid range anxiety). This car would have about 100 miles of usable range (which is double to triple what my Leaf had). That is no Model 3 (at 200 to 300 miles of usable range), but it’s fine for the people out there who can just switch cars with a spouse (which I could do until my wife and I became a one-car family — because we were only driving the second car one or two times a week and Uber can cover that at a much lower cost).
Technically, the Chevy Bolt and the new Nissan Leaf have better range, but I think one reason many people don’t consider an electric vehicle is that all the cheap EVs look dorky and all the cool looking EVs cost too much. I argue in my TCO articles that the Model 3 costs no more to own than a common car like a Toyota Camry, but not everyone can afford a new Camry! I think the Cooper Mini might be the first cool looking EV that is affordable. (I don’t mean to insult the Leaf and the Bolt. I love the geeky look of both. But I am not a normal car buyer — I’m an EV enthusiast.)
Total Cost Of Ownership Best Ever!
Before I get you too excited, it’s important to note the reason the total cost of ownership is so spectacular is I assumed that the Mini Electric can retain 30% of its list price and will have low running costs like all other EVs. That may or may not be true. KBB has predicted a 5 year value retention of 49% for the Tesla Model 3, and Edmunds has predicted a 5 year value retention of 33% for the BMW i3. However, the Nissan Leaf with its battery degradation issues only achieves 22% value retention (I would use KBB or Edmunds for all of them, but neither of them cover all 3 vehicles). I think the Mini Electric will be better than the Leaf, but not as good as the Model 3, so it could be anywhere in the 30% to 40% range. I picked 30% to be conservative.
I already had the Camry SE in my model, so I just updated gas prices to $2.50 a gallon. (Side note: gas prices dropping doesn’t make it any easier to promote EVs!)
So, the Mini Cooper EV just kills the Camry in cost of ownership. Now, they really aren’t comparable cars. The Camry is a standard family car that has no range issues but also is as boring as can be (I’m not insulting the Camry, I have owned several). The Mini Cooper is small but will get you noticed even if you buy the base model, and if you get it with some crazy colors or options, you will get even more attention. I think many people would like to stand out from the crowd if they realized it could also save them some serious money!
I wanted a tougher competitor, so I decided to match up the Mini Cooper EV to the Kelley Blue Book 2019 5-Year Cost to Own Award Winner in the Compact Car category, the Kia Soul!
The secret to the Kia Soul’s low costs is its extremely low purchase price, which limits both depreciation and interest costs. The Mini Cooper EV’s costs are even lower due to the $7,500 US tax credit — if you have enough income to use the whole tax credit (about $70,000 to $100,000, depending on approximately a million factors, see your tax adviser), low fuel costs, and low maintenance costs.
Here is a link to the Google Sheet I used, update it with your own cost estimates to see how it compares in your situation.
Although I wasn’t initially excited about the new Mini Cooper because I have been focused on the longer range alternatives, after seeing it in person and crunching the numbers, it is clear it is a great choice for buyers who are looking for style, fun driving, and low costs. As long as they have another car to use on longer trips, this seems like the ideal second car!
For years, I was recommending a new or used Leaf or Bolt to people who can’t afford a Tesla, but many people couldn’t handle the styling. Now they have another choice that looks great! Even though we all like to pretend that buying a car is a rational decision, it really isn’t. It is an emotional decision for almost everyone (but then they like to have hard figures so that they can pretend it was a rational decision). If the Mini Cooper Electric is promoted so that people know about it, I think it will find some very happy buyers. If it isn’t promoted very well, dealers will have to discount heavily and it will be an even better deal than what I am showing!
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