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BMW tests electric power and considers sharing next Mini platform with Alfa Romeo

10 Jul 2008

THE next-generation Mini could share its platform with a new Alfa Romeo model specifically targeted at the US market following the signing of an agreement between parent companies BMW and Fiat.

At the same time, the potential for electric-powered BMW or Mini variants has been raised with the confirmation today that global trials are about to start with several hundred Minis modified to take “purely electric” powertrains.

Zero emissions plug-in electric vehicles could be required in the US if proposed Californian legislation is approved for introduction in 2012, and would also help the BMW Group reach the projected European corporate emissions levels that are also set down for 2012.

While this coincides with when the third-generation Mini is due to be released, BMW insiders point out that testing the electric drivetrain in a Mini does not necessarily indicate where it might eventually be used.

39 center imageLeft: BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer and 120i hatch.

The hundreds of test cars are being built without drivetrains at Mini’s Oxford plant in the UK before being sent to Munich to be fitted with electric motors, batteries and transmissions.

The electric-powered Minis will be tested over the next 12 to 18 months in Europe and in California.

“This step will allow the BMW Group to gain an initial knowledge of how mobility can be achieved efficiently using purely electrically powered vehicles,” said BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer this week.

“Our task here is to combine the ultimate driving experience with an efficient electrified drive with practically no emissions.” At the company’s annual general meeting in May, Dr Reithofer said that BMW was still committed to its hydrogen combustion engine program in the long-term but that it would decide about building an electric car later this year.

“Today, modern lithium-ion batteries would allow for the combination of an electric drivetrain and sheer driving pleasure. Due to the limited reach, such vehicles would be most suitable to urban traffic,” he said.

The component-sharing deal struck between the BMW Group and Fiat Group Automobiles (FGA) is aimed at helping Alfa Romeo to make its much-promised return to the US market, which the brand deserted in 1995.

Statements issued this week by BMW and Fiat said that the discussions involve “co-operation in the areas of architectures and components” for Mini and Alfa Romeo.

A memorandum of understanding was signed by BMW board member Friedrich Eichiner and Fiat senior vice-president Alfredo Altavilla, who is also CEO of Fiat Powertrain Technologies.

“We are currently examining with the Fiat Group possibilities for the joint use of components and systems in Mini and Alfa Romeo vehicles in order to achieve economies of scale and thus cost reductions,” said Mr Eichiner.

Fiat Group CEO Sergio Marchionne said in Turin that the proposed co-operation with BMW is a significant cornerstone of Fiat’s strategy of alliances.

“We are delighted to work with such an esteemed and respected partner in the automotive industry with the clear objective of improving the competitive position of both parties,” said Mr Marchionne.

BMW has an alliance with PSA/Peugeot-Citroen for engine production, but it could also potentially make use of Fiat’s diesel expertise.

Although the two partners have agreed not to divulge details of the possible collaboration, they say that the results of the discussions “will probably be achieved by the end of the year”.

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