If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that the U.S. market is important to BMW as it rolls out the new generation of MINIs. And, it’s something it seems to be getting right.
Doin’ It Right
Even before BMW made announcements showing the importance of the U.S. market, the company showed us that it can get the general idea of a MINI right. Unless you’re familiar with the brand or have done some research, you might not know that the MINI design was actually born out of necessity rather than just for fun. During the late 1950s, the Suez Canal crisis caused fuel shortages in the UK, resulting in high demand for small German “Bubble Cars.” This situation compelled British manufacturers to go back to the drawing board and create their own fuel-efficient cars in order to stay competitive and survive in the industry.
Rather than adopting the conventional longitudinal configuration, where the engine’s rear propels the car, the astute designers of the MINI took a different approach. They ingeniously turned the lengthy engine sideways, driving the front wheels and saving significant space in the process. While other manufacturers and even some military vehicles had experimented with this concept before, none had executed it with the same level of precision and finesse as Morris, the original manufacturer of the MINI. This groundbreaking design decision not only facilitated optimal utilization of space but also allowed for the positioning of the wheels at the corners of the car.
In addition to this unconventional choice, the MINI also employed a rather peculiar technique that has rarely been seen since: integrating the transmission within the engine’s bottom sump. This ingenious approach effectively merged the two components into a single cohesive unit, sharing a common oil system.
Today, almost all EVs use this same configuration. A transverse electric motor is built into the same unit as the gearbox, and they even share lubrication and cooling systems to varying extents. So, in many ways, as it moves MINI into the EV world, the company is also returning to some of the roots it pioneered.
While a small, compact and efficient car plays well in the European market like it always has, the company had to make some changes if it wanted to have success with Mini EVs in the U.S. market.
One major challenge was the absence of tax credits and additional tariffs for electric vehicles EVs originating from China. In November 2019, Great Wall Motor, a local Chinese government, and the BMW Group announced their collaboration in launching a new venture called Spotlight Automotive Limited. This joint effort aimed to establish a plant with a capacity of up to 160,000 vehicles per year, expected to employ around 3,000 workers once full production commences. The total investment from both partners was estimated to be approximately €650 million.
This forced MINI to reconsider plans to build nearly all MINI EVs in China. MINI recently announced that it was going to keep making MINIs in the UK, which (if it can get the battery supplies from the right countries) would result in beating the tariffs and maybe even getting some tax credits for MINI buyers.
Another challenge is that people in the U.S. don’t like small cars like they used to. To succeed, the company had to make sure to not just sell electric MINIs, but also produce and sell the MINI Countryman (a small crossover version of the vehicle) for sale in North America.
(I also think they should offer a manual transmission in limited numbers, but that’s not going to hurt them in the U.S. market much)
Bringing The UK-built MINI Countryman To The States
Yesterday, MINI USA marked Climate Week NYC, the largest annual climate event of its kind, when it unveiled the new all-MINI Countryman Electric, making its debut in North America after its World Premiere at IAA Mobility in Munich earlier this month. This exciting model is expected to be available for U.S. consumers in the fall of 2024, with the brand saying it represents a significant step in MINI’s journey towards fully electrified mobility and sustainable design. With its larger size, the all-MINI Countryman Electric showcases the brand’s commitment to innovation and embracing a greener future.
“The all-new MINI Countryman Electric is a significant step as MINI moves to becoming a more sustainable and fully electrified brand by 2030,” said Mike Peyton, President of MINI Business Innovations LLC, and Vice President of MINI of the Americas “Sustainability is also a key mission of URBAN-X, our start-up accelerator focused on climate tech innovations that help make city life better. That’s why it’s a perfect fit to showcase our next new electric MINI at URBAN-X on the occasion of Climate Week NYC.”
The new electric Countryman made its debut on American soil during a special panel discussion titled “Driving Forward: The Transforming of Future Mobility.” The event, hosted by URBAN-X, the premier urban technology startup platform by MINI, took place at Newlab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. URBAN-X, which recently welcomed its 13th cohort of early-stage startups, is dedicated to nurturing innovative climate technology solutions that promote sustainability, livability, and resilience in cities.
MINI says the new Countryman offers a redesigned digital ecosystem, enhanced utility, and electric power to keep the thrill of driving alive, all while maintaining MINI’s unmistakable design cues. During the event, the New MINI Countryman Electric was accompanied on the stage by the new BMW CE-04 battery-electric scooter and the BMW iX5 Hydrogen prototype, so they wanted to show off how innovative they are (even hydrogen cars are a generally awful idea).
The URBAN-X panel also included Alexander Bilgeri, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Human Resources, Production, Purchasing, and Sustainability at BMW Group. Together with various startups and innovators, the session delved into the ever-evolving future of mobility. During the panel, Bilgeri presented the BMW Group’s sustainability strategy and the company’s ambitious plans to achieve its decarbonization targets by 2050.
So, they’re not just building a chunky version of an electric MINI. They’re trying to do right by the environment, too.
Featured image provided by BMW/MINI.
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