The Electric MINI E – Can it Sell in the US?

We’re two years away from the debut of the all electric MINI E hatch and even BMW isn’t sure how it will sell – especially in the US. Gas prices are low and distances are far. Those are a few of the reasons cited by some as to why BMW’s generally excellent i3 has failed to sell in sizable numbers IN North America. But in our mind it may also be the car itself.

Just before the i3’s engineering was finalized the BMW board made the decision to add an optional small power plant to act as a generator giving owners the ability to gas up and effectively extend the range. This option (known as REX) had the unfortunate side effect of limiting the amount of batteries that could fit in the all electric i3. The result was a $45k car that could barely get 80 miles on a charge in real world driving. That figure got substantially better with the 2017 i3 which was updated with more dense batteries (we saw over 130 miles at times). But it pales in comparison to the Chevrolet Bolt which costs 20k less and gets 238 miles to a charge.

The result? Last month’s i3 sales were down almost 60% from the year prior and are clearly not trending positively. But what must be puzzling for BMW is the i3’s sales outside of the US market make it the best selling premium electric car worldwide.

So this all begs the question – can the all electric MINI E be successful? Would you consider one? If so, what type of range and price are you looking for?

Let us know in the comments…

  • Christopher Johnson

    I would consider a MINI E, but I can’t imagine buying a new one mainly due to the depreciation of EVs being so killer. The i3 is a great example of what I am talking about if you need an example.

    Generally speaking I think that the MINI E needs to start just below the JCW and come with a decent amount of technology standard. Rangewise, I would hope it be at least 200miles. Compared to a Bolt a reduction in miles would be acceptable for a better driving feel, but not more than 10-15% since the pricing would be in the same ballpark.

    Pricewise, I think that being too close to Tesla’s $35,000 would be a tough sell. Thus, the upper 20s to $30k would be ideal. Anything lower than that would be even better.

    • Personally, I’d rather the MINI E give up range vs the Bolt/Model 3/etc. to keep the price and, more importantly, weight down. Turn the MINI into a fat slob, and now you’ve taken away the character of the MINI Hardtop.

      As far as tech, it will almost certainly have Nav standard, as the i3 does, for the purposes of locating charge stations. Not that the iDrive is as useful as an app like Plugshare, because it isn’t, but it’s a comfort-level thing for people.

  • Nick Dawson

    Do not place too much emphasis on a single month’s sales figures – July was a bad month for US car dealers – and although the i3 was down 59.4% on a year ago, the Tesla S performed even worse, down 66.28% on July 2016.

    Provided that the MINI E’s standard specification and price are kept at sensible levels – circa $30k MSRP – I suspect that it will sell reasonably well for a premium electric Supermini. It will, after all, use the next development in battery technology.

    The Countryman S E – $36,800 MSRP – has only just gone on sale in the US, and in July comfortably outsold the Hyundai Ionic E – $29,500 MSRP – on sale since March. The Smart FourTwo ED – $23,800 MSRP – sold no cars in July and only 57 YTD.

  • Greg

    Price: make it under 30k$, without tax breaks.

    Range: 240 miles or go back to drawing board, range needs to be usable in colder climates and range is halved when it’s cold. 120 miles is a 60 mile radius, barely enough for everyday use.

    Markets: make it a compelling electric car that’s fun to drive and people will get it not despite the fact that it’s electric but because it is. That’s how you’ll win the US, the rest of the world already wants electric cars, like the i3 has proven elsewhere. That’s also how the Model 3 has a few hundred thousand preorders from within the US.

    • Greg

      Range is reduced by an average of 57% in cold weather and is also reduced by around 36% in overly hot weather: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jimgorzelany/2014/03/24/the-cold-truth-icy-temps-can-slash-an-electric-cars-range-by-more-than-half/

      So the more range, the less we’ll end each day close to empty, the less we’ll need a second car to compensate.

    • I seriously doubt it’s going to be 240 miles range AND under $30k without tax breaks. In fact, I’d say it’s more likely to be neither than both. MINI is a premium brand. I doubt they’re going to both undercut Hyundai/Chevy pricing AND beat them on range, even with a year or so battery tech advantage.

      I agree about fun-to-drive, though. The quick response and instant torque of the electric motor makes many EVs fun to accelerate off the line or shoot into openings in traffic, but a MINI hardtop is fun in different way. Even the RWD BMW i3 is no match for the MINI Hardtop as far as inspiring confidence during spirited driving. Mixing the two should make for a car that is more fun than any other mass-market EV… just like gas-powered MINIs and their competition.

      • Greg

        The problem is, nobody’s gonna buy the Hyundai/Chevy offerings when the Model 3 gives them range and autopilot capabilities and a certain level of premium, the Model 3 is the one to undercut. Autopilot capabilities are at least a 5000$ value for a buyer.

        And as much as MINI is pushing the premium of its brand, don’t underestimate the perceived level of refinement of the Teslas.

        • First, I hope “Autopilot is worth $5,000 to the buyer,” because that’s how much the option costs… plus $3,000 for self-driving, whenever that actually becomes available. You’re getting auto-braking and such for $35k, but not “Autopilot” in the self-driving sense. That will cost you $40k-$43k. And you’ll still have cloth seats.

          That being said, I’m not saying the Hyundai or Chevy are the benchmarks that MINI should be looking at. That’s not my point. My point is that the MINI is not likely to beat the Bolt by $7,500 ($30k) on price AND beat it on range. Not going to happen. In fact, there’s no reason for MINI to price the MINI E that low AND have that much range. Why? Because they’d never be able to build enough of them to meet demand, so they might as well charge more. Tesla claims they can sell hundreds of thousands of Model 3’s per year (220 miles @ $35,000), but MINI probably can’t make more than thousands or 10s of thousands of F-series MINI E’s, so cutting margins to nothing just to have demand completely outstrip supply makes no sense. And if it was $30k for 240 miles of range in a premium car, they couldn’t make them fast enough.

          Another consideration is Tax Credits. By the time the MINI E is available, BMW is likely to still have tax credits available. Tesla will almost certainly be phasing out by then. Chevy may be in the same boat as Tesla. If MINI still has the full credit and others don’t, that can be a big difference in price, even if the MSRP is ~$35k.

          Personally, I hope they keep the price and weight down and sacrifice range. 150-200 miles would be plenty for a MINI for the majority of uses, and then you’re not paying for and dragging around batteries you’ll almost never use. As a backup for long trips, MINI could offer loaners or cheap rentals to MINI E owners like BMW does.

        • Greg

          Agreed. Well said. I guess we’re not at the 30k$ 240 miles electric car point yet. Then if the limit is 35k$, without any self-driving, I guess that’s the bar to duck under.

          But don’t count on tax credits to win the market, because they’ll be gone fast enough. Maybe the best way for MINI to extract value from the credits is to charge a higher price until the credits are gone, then lower the price.

          And as much as it pains me, I agree that they should sacrifice range if they can’t get it under the target price, but loaners and cheap rentals are quite annoying, and not equally as easy or useful when you take into account where each customer lives (urban, suburb, rural, international). So range is still immensely important. More so than the slight loss in efficiency of dragging around a bigger battery daily.

        • Yeah, I think $30k / 240 miles is too far, especially for a premium brand like MINI. The Ioniq is $30k / 124 miles. The Bolt $37,500 / 240. The new Leaf $30k / 160 miles. MINI is a premium brand and unlikely to significantly beat those from a value proposition. It may have a 1.5-2 years battery tech advantage, but it’s also more premium than any of those, too.

          As far as tax credits, I think they may be able to count on them… but only for THIS particular MINI E… the one retrofitted onto the Fxx platform. They’ll still have credits in 2019, and this car isn’t going to be a long production run given the expiration of the Fxx platform. After that, they’ll have to stand on their own.

          I agree range is important, but it may be less important if they can only make a certain amount of them, anyway. It doesn’t have to work for everyone, if they can only sell 5k per year in the US, anyway. And yeah, rentals and loaners are not the best. But that might be a selling point for some. We’ll see.

  • ulrichd

    With the ICE gone maybe MINI designers could tighten up that front overhang a bit.

    • The i3’s overhang is visually pretty short. That said, it also missed out on a 5-star Euro NCAP crash rating, with one of the main culprits being pedestrian safety in a collision. I hope they can do it with the MINI-E, though!

  • This is a very small worry amongst the list of things / specs to worry about with the MINI E, but there’s a little bit of a conundrum for MINI as far as the MINI E as far as MINI Takes the States (and other unofficial MINI Events). What if someone wants to participate in MTTS? Can they in a MINI E? Perhaps they’ll plan MTTS accordingly and have it pass by charging stations. BUT, with BMW not having their own network, it’s hard to guarantee availability and function. I think the Tesla network advantage is overblown for many use cases, but an MTTS type event is one where it would make a big difference.

    I know this only applies to a very small subset of MINI owners: Those who will want a MINI E (or just like having the hottest thing from MINI) AND who also want to drive a big chunk of MTTS or do a long trip to MOTD, for instance. That said, the people in that section of the Venn Diagram of MINI owners are some of the brand’s biggest evangelists and supporters.

    Hopefully, they can get enough range and high enough charge rate that having a handful of MINI E’s along for MTTS or MOTD will be feasible. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • Jaymes Deen

    It would be a great seller cause it wouldn’t look like crap like the i3.

    • ulrichd

      I really like the in your face, the future is here, look of the i3. It may be polarizing but at least it’s not another Vanilla/Meh design.