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BMW Decides To Build Electric MINIs In The UK & Not Just China

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Years ago, BMW announced that it was going big on building future electric MINI vehicles in China. But, as media outlets have been pointing out, U.S. sales would run into a huge tariff. Fortunately, MINI now has plans to build at least some of the vehicles in the UK, which will beat the tariff, provide a more authentic MINI, and enable continued presence in the U.S.

BMW’s 2019 Chinese Deal

In November 2019, a local Chinese government, Great Wall Motor, and the BMW Group jointly announced the launch of a new venture, Spotlight Automotive Limited. The plant was planned to have a capacity of up to 160,000 vehicles per year and is expected to employ approximately 3,000 workers once full production begins. The total investment from both partners was estimated to be around €650 million (over five billion CNY).

Construction was scheduled to take place between 2020 and 2022, but as we know, China was just days from running into the first wave of Coronavirus, so those plans obviously had to be adjusted.

The joint venture included not just building copies of electric MINIs, but also joint development of battery-electric vehicles in the world’s largest market for electromobility. This involved not only the development and production of recently-announced electric MINI models, but also various models and brands for Great Wall Motor.

At the time, BMW did announced that MINI Plant Oxford will remain the heart of MINI manufacturing, while the Spotlight Automotive joint venture will provide additional capacity and flexibility. But, since the announcement, the automotive press indicates that the company went a lot deeper into Chinese production, perhaps even considering doing nearly all of the production there.

The Big Problem With Chinese MINIs

Once it became clear that most or all MINIs were going to come from China, it didn’t take long for automotive writers to figure out that there was one big problem: U.S. sales. The United States has a 25% tariff on EVs produced in China, so that would mean MINI would have a high-priced EV that’s simultaneously not eligible for tax credits and rebates. It didn’t seem possible for the company to make a cheap enough EV to end up with a competitive U.S. price, either.

When asked about the situation, a BMW representative told media last week that the company does have a plan, and a good one, but that it wasn’t ready to announce. This led to speculation that the company could keep building them in the UK in limited numbers, or even open production in Mexico to do things the way GM and Volkswagen often does. The idea of a U.S. plant seemed far-fetched, though.

BMW also told the press that it considered this a high priority, as the new, larger MINI EVs (the Countryman and Aceman) meant a lot of potential for future U.S. sales. So, this wasn’t a problem it could ignore.

BMW Chooses Continued UK Production

BMW Group has announced a new investment of over £600 million in the MINI factories located in Oxford and Swindon.

“With this new investment we will develop the Oxford plant for production of the new generation of electric MINIs and set the path for purely electric car manufacturing in the future,” said Milan Nedeljković, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for production.

The Oxford plant will produce two new all-electric MINI models starting in 2026: the 3-door MINI Cooper and the compact crossover MINI Aceman. By 2030, the production will be exclusively electric, with the BMW Group investing over £3bn in its Swindon, Hams Hall, and Oxford plants since 2000. This initiative, supported by the UK Government, will not only help secure jobs at the Oxford manufacturing plant but also at the body-pressing facility in Swindon.

“BMW Group’s investment is another shining example of how the UK is the best place to build cars of the future.” said Rishi Sunak, UK PM. “By backing our car manufacturing industry, we are securing thousands of jobs and growing our economy right across the country.”

The Oxford plant marked its 110th anniversary this year and has been producing the current MINI Electric since 2019, fully integrated into the production line alongside conventional (ICE) models.

“MINI has always been aware of its history — Oxford is and remains the heart of the brand. I am delighted that the two new, fully electric MINI models — the MINI Cooper and MINI Aceman — are also being produced in Oxford, thereby confirming our path to a fully electric future,” said Stefanie Wurst, Head of the MINI brand. “The continuing high demand for our locally emission-free vehicles shows the openness of the global MINI community to electromobility, which we will be able to serve optimally in the future, also thanks to Oxford.”

The MINI Plant Oxford currently manufactures the MINI 3-door, MINI 5-door, MINI Clubman, and MINI Electric. Starting in 2024, the plant will produce the next generation MINI 3-door and MINI 5-door with combustion engines, along with the new MINI Convertible. In 2026, the plant will introduce new all-electric vehicles, including the MINI Cooper 3-door and the MINI Aceman.

The factory aims to produce approximately 200,000 cars annually in the medium term. Initially, both internal combustion engine (ICE) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will be manufactured on the same production line. However, starting from 2030, the Oxford Plant will exclusively produce all-electric MINI models. Production of the new MINI Countryman will start soon at the BMW Group plant in Leipzig. This larger crossover model will be available with both electric and combustion engines.

However, the smallest two-door MINI and Aceman will still start production in China, so it appears that they’re saving non-China production for models that are likely to be more popular in the United States.

Eventually, it will need to offer more models from lower tariff production sites, but in the meantime, it’s good that U.S. MINIs will still be a little more authentic, and made in the UK in many cases. This might not be the most economical solution for now, with U.S. tariffs preventing cheaper Chinese production, but it’s a move that’s likely to meet the approval of enthusiasts and purists, at least.

Featured image provided by BMW/MINI.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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