VW’s New Electric Small Car Concept May Accelerate Electric MINI Production

Over the years we’ve reported on MINI’s flirtation with all an electric car. The MINI E remains the only full electric vehicle released by the brand but that was a small production run meant to pave the way for the BMWi brand. Now MINI (and BMW) is on the precipice of an full-on electric car assault as rivals prepare for their own launches.

Volkswagen Tiguan GTE Active Concept

VW, one of MINI’s fieriest rivals, is days away from showing the world a concept version of its dedicated electric small car that’s being described as a mobile gadget on wheels. The revelation that VW is planning on attacking the electric market in the coming years (and potentially eliminating diesels from the US) is sure to cement BMW and MINI’s new more aggressive stance on electrification.

What technology will MINI use? BMW decades of experience developing its own electric drivetrains so that’s not the issue. What will be a hurdle is what chassis the new electric MINI makes use of. The i3 is too bespoke to use as a MINI without massive modification. That modification would effectively raise the price of the electric MINI beyond even the i3 – a non-starter for most would be buyers.

It all begs the question – what do you want to see out of an electric MINI? How much range, cost and what size would you like to see?

  • Rikki Loades

    Electric Mini’s in my opinion share the same exterior and interior design as the regular Mini. That way they don’t have to re-design things. The only difference should be the drivetrain and energy storage mechanism.

    Electric drivetrains are typically smaller than combustion ones. So fitting them in appropriately shouldn’t be a problem. They could even offer AWD variants as no driveshaft needs to go between the front and rear – bonus.

    Energy storage is a problem, since for a given range you need more volume and weight with batteries than combustion engine fuels. On the volume size of things, you need to find enough space without compromising interior space. On the weight size of things you need to put the weight in the right place to maintain handling characteristics. IMO Tesla has solved this, you build the battery into the floor of the vehicle chassis. This is where the vast majority of any design change should be concentrated. Then only the machines in the factory that build the first stages of the chassis have to change (these are all programmable robots which can deal with variations fairly easily already). All other components can be interchangeable. The rest of the production line remains unchanged.

    The other area money should be spent is on drivetrain and battery management. The systems and software for that obviously do not exist. Fast battery charging needs to be a focus. Range is also really important, not just because you want to travel long distances, but because you dont want to reduce the likely-hood of going do a short journey and finding that you dont have enough range because the range can only accomodate 1-2 short trips and you have to charge very frequently.

    What I think would be a huge mistake is to use electrification as an excuse to go redesigning all other aspects of the car. That just ends up costing more money and people need to be convinced of a new design. Ultimately it pushes the price up further too. People need a electric car that is not worse than their current car but just like it, but with a different energy mechanism. If you can make it better cool – but focus on making it as good as what is there currently first.

    In summary here is what it really needs to be viable:

    • Minimal design changes exterior and interior.
    • Focus on making the drivetrain great.
    • Cost same as current Mini’s (that can be after government incentives if required)
    • Have a range of around 180-200 miles. I appreciate it wont realistically be able to do the 250-300 miles tesla’s can as they have a larger body to Accommodate batteries.
    • They should start with the 3-5 door Hatch or the Countryman (if they need the extra space). Only do it on the other smaller selling models once they have mass volumes elsewhere.
  • Greg

    Make it a city car, so it can be small, affordable, a second car to most people, that way you don’t need to hit the same range targets that others have and you can hit price points that others can’t. A drop in replacement of the current engine block would make the most sense financially.

    Make the next generation electric from the ground up or share the platform with other BMWs with electric in mind, when you have learned from your mistakes with the first. Still needs to be lively and handle great.

    Two words: Electric Rocketman!

    • Greg

      If you compare with the new 2017 i3 which seems to have a 33kWh battery and a range of 114 miles, and the 0-60 times of the previous i3 which are around 6.5 seconds for the electric without range extender, that puts it right in line with my minimum requirements.

      Except for the price. Which is over $45k. Can’t wait for the economies of scale to kick in…

      If you have to make it $40-45k, make it AWD. The AWD Teslas have better mileage than the FWDs, that’ll help me swallow the cost better, and will help me handle the snow better.

    • Rikki Loades

      I totally agree with you if this was 5 years ago. Right now though i dont think they have the luxury of the next 5-7 years learning. They also need to do it properly, make a serious go of it. Otherwise i fear they will fail or by the time they have something great for the masses with Tesla and others will be out of sight.

      Electric Rocketman! Now that would be amazing – i’d buy one too. I was a little disappointed with the F56 hatch came out and the front didn’t look like that. Its too niche though to prove that they can be profitable with only electric at realistic prices.

      • Greg

        You’re right, and I just read about the history of electric BMWs, and they have been at it since before the 80s, with the latest serious tests starting with the MINI E in 2009 and the BMW ActiveE on the 1 series platform in 2010, culminating with the release of the i3 in 2013 to fit the requirements of what the people who lived with them wanted out of an electric car day-to-day.

        Unfortunately, I’m guessing they want a winner on day one and no one has made a winner on day one, the long term winning strategy seems to be to iterate. Often and early. Make it just a little better every year.

        And MINI is a great brand to do just that, the overall design of the car doesn’t need to change as much as other bland brands.

        So the way I’d see it to build a sustainable electric MINI, and to agree with you, build it on an electric-friendly platform to get the structural advantages of a floor battery and have it be ICE compatible too to be swappable. Or don’t make it swappable, just make two different platforms that take into account that one will be electric, and the other ICE, but make them similar enough that both will share most components except for the drivetrain and energy storage (engine and gas tank).