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Mini Aus delays Countryman PHEV confirmation call

Incoming: The Mini Countryman S E All4 is likely to land on Australian shores in late 2018, once a local evaluation has taken place.

Petrol-electric Countryman faces tough questions from Mini Australia

10 Mar 2017

MINI Australia has delayed confirmation of its Countryman plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), despite global executives indicating it would be a given for our market, but added that a decision was imminent.

Following its reveal at the Los Angeles auto show in November, BMW Group board member Peter Schwarzenbauer told GoAuto that the battery powered Mini small SUV is “a worldwide offer” and “we are bringing it to Australia.”

At the time, BMW Group Australia general manager of corporate communications Lenore Fletcher further added that a final decision on its viability for our market would be made “in the next couple of months.”

However, this week at the national media launch of the Countryman in Canberra, Mini Australia general sales manager Tony Sesto insisted that a decision to introduce the PHEV locally had still not been made.

“We’re very keen to introduce it to our market and one of the things that we are doing now is looking at the business case for the PHEV (but) at this stage we can’t confirm that it will be 100 per cent introduced into the Australian market,” he said.

“We need to make sure that it’s viable for our dealer network, and we really want to make sure the demand is out there from our customers for that type of vehicle.”

Mr Sesto further indicated that the Countryman PHEV had not yet been a primary part of Mini Australia’s product discussions.

Asked whether the company believed there was a market for the vehicle locally, he replied: “It’s difficult to comment (as) our energy and focus has been on the current variants we have just launched into the marketplace.”“Our stage two is now to investigate the PHEV to see how quick and when is the right time to introduce that to our marketplace,” he added.

“It’s definitely a viable option for this market. We think there is a place for the PHEV in the Australian market. For us it’s determining when is the right time to introduce that model.”

In a view generally mirrored by the BMW Group and other German brands, Mr Sesto further reiterated concerns around the lack of government legislation supporting vehicles less reliant on fossil fuels that are often costlier to produce but subsidised in the majority of first-world markets.

“We still don’t have a government which really acknowledges things like climate change, and really supports vehicles like this where other markets do,” he said, hinting that the vehicle may be prohibitively expensive if introduced into the Australian market without government-led incentives.

However, with the current diesel-engined Countryman SD topping out at $51,500 plus on-road costs, and the performance JCW flagship expected later this year for an estimated $56K, Mr Sesto revealed that even without incentives the Countryman PHEV would not become the flagship Mini.

“It wouldn’t be the most expensive Mini in the range, but it’s really difficult to make comment without going through a business case and having a complete review,” he said.

Despite not arriving in Australia until the third quarter of 2017, Mr Sesto admitted that it was “definitely” easier to confirm the performance Countryman JCW for our market ahead of the eco-friendly Countryman PHEV.

“We actually have a very strong take-up of JCW compared to our total sales and worldwide we’re actually one of the strongest markets for JCW,” he added.

“So there is a strong desire in our marketplace for the sub-brand for JCW. The JCW brand will continue to grow.”

The Mini Countryman PHEV uses the same 100kW 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine found in the $39,900 entry model, but adds a 65kW rear axle-mounted electric motor for 165kW and 385Nm total outputs.

An all-wheel drive-only proposition, it can be plugged into a household power point to deliver 40km of electric-only driving range.

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