After dabbling with electric concept cars for the past few years, BMW has finally jumped into the future with both feet by announcing the launch of its first-ever all-electric Mini. The cars, which are being constructed in BMW’s Oxford plant in England, are in production now and available for pre-order. Buyers can expect their delivery by mid-2020 at the latest.
While BMW is keen to point to proven interest from potential buyers as the reason for the launch of the new vehicle, it’s likely that emissions targets laid out by the European Union may also have had something to do with the manufacturer’s keen sense of urgency. BMW, as with all car companies, are required to reduce the emissions their vehicles are responsible for by 2020. As the emissions target is taken as an average across all models of vehicle that a manufacturer builds, selling electric cars is an obvious step towards meeting the targets.
The number of customers who have registered an interest in buying one of the new Minis has been recorded by BMW as 15,000, which wouldn’t normally suggest huge demand. BMW built and sold more than a quarter of a million Minis in 2018, so 15,000 would represent barely a fraction of that amount. Seemingly low levels of interest from the public have been blamed for holding back the development of electric cars for years. Designing and building electric concept cars costs big money to manufacturers, and without the guarantee of sales at the end of the process, that big money is a big money gamble. Car manufacturers do not tend to be gamblers. In the gambling world, slot games only make money because customers come to them and pay in more money in total than the slots pay out in prizes. If the slot games paid out a jackpot each day without making more money back in return, they would quickly be shut down. BMW doesn’t have the luxury online slots websites do – they can’t just shut production down after it’s already happened. If they’ve invested big money in a car and it doesn’t sell, they’re stuck with it.
One thing that might prove to win approval for the electric model from the public is the price, which is comparatively low at a reported £24,400, which has been slightly subsidized by a grant offered to them by the British Government in return for making environmentally-friendly cars. It remains to be seen whether that makes up for what drivers perceive to be a lack of charging station availability, and therefore a risk of simply running out of power while out on the road and therefore getting stuck. Others point out the impracticality of charging an electric car at home for those who don’t have a driveway or a designated parking space, and the fact that the cars only have a range of 300 miles at best as things currently stand. For some commuters – especially those who drive to and from London every day – that just isn’t enough.
A New Era?
If the Mini is successful, as BMW hope it will be, the internal belief within the company is that it will act as a breakthrough vehicle as the company looks to move into the future. Senior BMW figure Oliver Zipse spoke at the launch of the Mini, and indicated that reaching the point at which customers prefer electric vehicles to petrol-driven ones is one of the company’s aspirations. He specifically referred to the Mini Electric as a ‘new model offensive,’ by which we presume he meant it was a spearhead project rather than being an offensive version of the much-loved classic Mini.
Although some newspapers within the UK are reporting a huge surge in the number of electric cars sold in recent years, many of them are only telling half the story. Even selling a few hundred more electric or hybrid vehicles this year than were sold during the same period of last year would have a significant impact on sales percentages because sales figures were so low to begin with. Less than 12,000 electric cars were sold during the first six months of 2019, which accounts for less than one percent of all car sales in the UK. If less than one in a hundred car purchasers chooses to go with an electric model when presented with the option to do so, the prospects of succeeding with a new mass-produced electric model appear to be brief. BMW’s forecast of 15,000 potential buyers would be three thousand higher than the total sales of all other electric cars put together. Either the company has drummed up incredibly enthusiastic support for their new car, or their data is wrong.
Carry On Regardless
Whatever happens with the sales figures for the Mini, BMW appears to be destined to forge ahead with making electric and hybrid cars, and are pledged to do so until well into the next decade. Existing plans approved by the company call for the creation of twenty-five electric car variants over the next four of years, over half of which are required to be fully electric instead of hybrid. Whoever oversees that project will have to believe in the cause completely – and the aforementioned Oliver Zipse may be the ideal man for the job.
There will shortly be a vacancy right at the top of the command chain in BMW, with chief executive Harald Kruger already making his plans for departure, and a power vacuum beneath him. Zipse is well-regarded inside BMW for his work at the Oxford plant responsible for the production of the new Mini, and as someone with hands-on experience of overseeing the production of electric cars, it may be that he’s ultimately selected as the best contender to take the company into the 2020s.
Are you one of the potential customers who’s put their name down to buy one of the new electric Minis? Do you already have an electric car? If you don’t, would you ever consider using one? Are they a necessary product of the future, or are they just not as good as conventional fuel-driven cars? As always, you can carry on the conversation and let us known down in the comments!