BMW Group Signs Deal to Build Electric Minis in China

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

BMW Group has signed with Great Wall Motors to produce Mini-branded vehicles in China. This is the German automotive group’s second joint venture in the region and will not affect its current alliance with Brilliance Auto — which builds BMW models specifically equipped to appeal to the Chinese market.

The same will be true for the Mini deal with Great Wall, as the entirety of the production line will be electric vehicles. While the main reason for this is to ensure BMW hits its government-imposed quota for EVs, Great Wall said the venture would help it meet the needs of Chinese consumers and tap into the new energy vehicle market both home and abroad.

Mini has said a production version of the Mini Electric Concept won’t happen until November of 2019, but there’s been buzz that the automaker may seek widespread electrification after that. Interestingly, Chinese Minis will use a new platform developed by the joint venture, rather than rely on whatever architecture the Western-built EV adheres to. That’s two separate plug-in product lines. Will EV exclusivity be the future of the brand?

With automakers scrambling to meet strict new targets in China, — which has called for electric and rechargeable hybrid vehicles to account for a fifth of an automaker’s total sales by 2025 — BMW Group could be positioning Mini to assume the majority of the responsibility. However, as a separate marque with a completely different partner, it’s unlikely the Mini EVs will count toward the rest of the auto group’s total.

Instead, Mini might serve as a testbed to help BMW make up its mind on how to approach the Chinese rules. Larger companies will be expected to produce over a million plug-ins in just a couple of years to satisfy the new electrification and fuel economy requirements. The catch is, the consumer base doesn’t yet purchase enough of them to support those numbers. An automaker could be diving headlong into disaster if it isn’t totally prepared.

Reuters reported that the Chinese venture could start making the electric Mini in 2021 or 2022, adding it would also produce models under the Great Wall brand.

Analysts at Bernstein claim they were confused as to why BMW opted to have a minority stake in the deal. Holding less than than a 50-percent stake would give Great Wall rights to any intellectual property the two companies develop together. Neither company has been willing to elaborate further on the deal.

“Next steps will be to agree on the details of a possible joint venture and cooperation agreement and clarify aspects such as the choice of production location and concrete investments,” BMW said. It a separate statement, it also explained it would further expand its alliance with Brilliance.

[Image: BMW Group]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Tele Vision Tele Vision on Feb 23, 2018

    Great. A Mini with a huge back seat and a battery. Sign. Me. Up.

  • HotPotato HotPotato on Mar 07, 2018

    1. To most folks, a Mini and a Fiat 500 look nearly identical. 2. In the US, EVs sell mostly in California. 3. California is already awash in Fiat 500e electrics, which can be leased new for peanuts or bought used for pocket change. 4. So since the new Mini EV was announced, I have been wondering, where on earth does Mini think they're going to sell it? Now we know: China! (But on a new platform...presumably engineered to omit the costly bits, such as safety and durability.)

  • EBFlex No they shouldn’t. It would be signing their death warrant. The UAW is steadfast in moving as much production out of this country as possible
  • Groza George The South is one of the few places in the U.S. where we still build cars. Unionizing Southern factories will speed up the move to Mexico.
  • FreedMike I'd say that question is up to the southern auto workers. If I were in their shoes, I probably wouldn't if the wages/benefits were at at some kind of parity with unionized shops. But let's be clear here: the only thing keeping those wages/benefits at par IS the threat of unionization.
  • 1995 SC So if they vote it down, the UAW gets to keep trying. Is there a means for a UAW factory to decide they no longer wish to be represented and vote the union out?
  • Lorenzo The Longshoreman/philosopher Eri Hoffer postulated "Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and ends up as a racket." That pretty much describes the progression of the United Auto Workers since World War II, so if THEY are the union, the answer is 'no'.
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