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Frankfurt show: Mini takes EV rollout slowly

E street: The Mini Electric concept will become a production reality in 2019 but don’t expect all Minis to go electric.

Electrified Minis are coming but not for all models, according to global executive

Mini logo15 Sep 2017

By TIM NICHOLSON in FRANKFURT

MINI is unlikely to offer an electrified powertrain in each of its model lines despite showing its EV ambitions with the Mini Electric concept at the Frankfurt motor show this week.

The BMW Group-owned brand has ramped up its electrification strategy in the past year, announcing a plug-in hybrid version of the Countryman crossover – which is all but locked in for an Australian launch – followed by the debut of the all-electric Mini E concept that is set to make it to production in 2019.

Asked if it was in the company’s plan to offer an electrified version of each of its five model lines in the future, Mini senior vice-president Sebastian Mackensen said in Frankfurt that although the brand has the technological capability to develop more EVs and PHEVs, it was unlikely for now.

“Does this automatically mean we now do this for every vehicle? Technically, we will, as our board member for development pointed out, make our group capable to be really flexible on that, but what we have to look at, at the same time, is we are a smaller player in the automotive field,” Mr Mackensen said.

“We sold 360,000 cars last year, and we have the clear goal and will grow this year again, but still, we do that with five cars.

“We always have to see, is it feasible to do the effort of putting every possible drivetrain in every vehicle? “And I think our answer will be, ‘No, it’s not.’ It’s not feasible or it’s at least not the smartest decision, because then we create niche inside of niche, and we talk about the 15-25 per cent of electric vehicle buyers also, from a strategic group perspective, this means on the flipside, 75-85 (per cent) non-electric vehicle buyers, so we want to make all of our Mini fans happy.”

When asked if it would be easy to rollout electrified powertrains across more of its model lines because they are all based on the same BMW Group front-drive UKL platform, Mr Mackensen said it technically could be done but could compromise the model.

“Let me give you one very practical example: the Countryman plug-in hybrid,” he said. “This means two drivetrains in one car. Now if you do that in a three-door hatch, you have a combustion engine in there, and you have an electric engine in there, there’s a compromise you have with space and where you can put everything.

“That fits best, in our portfolio, in our biggest car, which is the Countryman, so you still offer a decent electric range because you have enough space for batteries. If the car’s smaller, you have less space to put them so you have to make decisions and ... technically yes, but maybe then the outcome of the car is not a car you want to go to market with.”

Mr Mackensen said it was possible that electric propulsion could form part of future high-performance John Cooper Works powertrains, but added that it was unlikely in the short term.

“What happens to JCW when e-mobility becomes more prominent? I think we will have a great solution then as well. (But) that’s not today, and not tomorrow,” he said.

“If you had John Cooper Works (model), you’d want to hear some roaring right now. We have to think about how we manage it, because it stands for our top performance cars, for the real pinnacle of the Mini-ness you get being craftsmanship, being material, being how it drives on the street, and that could fit very well together with electric propulsion as well.”

Mr Mackensen said the brand elected to bypass a JCW version of the five-door hatchback because the company decided there was no need to provide a high-performance version in every model line.

“We didn’t think that it’s the best thing out there, because the reason many people go from three-door to five-door is the addition of usage. Now you could obviously say, ‘What does this prevent from having more power?’ But again, we cannot do everything on every car,” he said.

“We have the heart of the brand, the centre of gravity that’s the three-door, that way you can get the John Cooper Works. If you want an open roof, you can have it as well, and you can have it in the compact segment, but not in the five-door.”

Asked why Mini has not gone all out with its performance variants in offering versions that are up there with the fastest and most powerful in the segment, Mr Mackensen said it would depend on positioning.

“I think it could fit with the brand, it depends how you position it. If you position it only as a car to show off in a very extroverted, but in the same way cheap way, I would say no. If it would be also really the best driver, maybe yes,” he said.

“But at the same time, we are part of a group, which is great for us because it offers us access to a lot of technology, and then we have to see, okay, what combinations of architecture and drivetrains do we think make sense for Mini? Is there a potential for a very steep positioning with a more powerful car? “There probably is. And that’s why we kick around ideas.”

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