It’s Official: BMW is Partnering with Great Wall Motor to Develop and Build Electric MINIs in China

The 2020 MINI Electric. Think i3 drivetrain shoehorned into the current F56 chassis.

As sources had predicted, BMW is looking to co-develop and produce electric MINIs in a China. On the face of it, this letter of intent means that BMW is getting very serious about two things: MINI becoming an electric brand and the success in Chinese market. It also represents a smart way forward for BMW as it faces huge costs in moving into electrification. What this doesn’t mean is that BMW will stop producing MINIs in the UK.

This tie-up would represent a large increase in production scale which would allow for higher quality components and innovation around electrification to be potentially more cost effective for a small brand like MINI.

Great Wall’s new luxury divsion Wey looks to be the benefactor of this collaboration as it better aligns with quality of product that MINI and BMW are known for. But given what it being dicussed, the collaboration will likely be invisible to the end consumer. Further it’s likely that the tie-up wouldn’t impact production of MINIs in the UK or Europe but would instead offer BMW a chance to defray the enormous engineering and design costs in creating a overarching platform for MINIs and front wheel drive BMWs – likely totaling close to 1 million units. This cost is especially hard to swallow as BMW has vowed to remain fluid when it comes to drivetrain choices for these cars. That would means a chassis capable of easily offering petrol, diesel, hybrid and full electric drivetrains.

Official News: The BMW Group is in advanced discussions to ramp up the global success of its MINI brand through a new joint venture in China. A key element of the brand’s continued strategic development will be local production of future battery-electric MINI vehicles in the world’s largest market for electromobility. To this end, the BMW Group has signed a “letter of intent” with the Chinese manufacturer Great Wall Motor. In addition to production of the first battery electric MINI at the main plant in Oxford starting in 2019, this signals a further clear commitment to the electrified future of the MINI brand.

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. The BMW Group has no plans to set up an additional sales organisation in China. The company is firmly committed to continuing the successful cooperation with the established sales structure.

Independently of its strategic considerations towards the MINI brand, the BMW Group will further expand its highly successful BMW Brilliance Automotive (BBA) joint venture in China with its partner, Brilliance. In addition to its two automobile production locations, BBA already runs an engine plant, which includes a battery factory for electrified BMW brand vehicles produced locally in Shenyang. This is the first battery factory operated by a premium automobile manufacturer in China.

In recent years, BBA has become a cornerstone of the BMW brand’s success in its largest market and serves as a model for the continued development of MINI in China. Around 560,000 BMW brand vehicles were delivered to customers in China in 2017 – more than in the next two largest markets, the US and Germany, combined. In 2017, China was MINI’s fourth-largest market, with around 35,000 units delivered. This underlines the brand’s additional global potential.

The successful strategy for expansion of the BMW Group’s global production network obeys a clear rule: Production follows the market. However, expansion of the BMW brand in its largest markets, such as China, has not led to a decrease in production at the company’s German plants. On the contrary, between 2007 and 2017, production in Germany increased by close to a quarter to around 1.15 million vehicles per year. At the same time, almost half of all BMW production now takes place at plants outside Germany.

A similar growth strategy could accelerate development of the MINI brand significantly without questioning the BMW Group’s commitment in the UK. The company has made significant investments over the years to step up its involvement in the country.

  • AnthLC

    Great Wall don’t have a good representation for building quality and safe vehicles. Other makers have pulled out of direct manufacturing in China for fear of lose of i.p (intellectual property). I be more wary of buying a electric mini if sourced from China. But I imagine BMW are aware customers being wary of buying a Chinese made Mini. Does loses some of the mystique in terms of its U.K. Heritage. I suspect only components made and assemblied in UK.

    • Wahrsager

      I work at Great Wall Motors (GWM)in Baoding, China. The quality of Chinese cars is improving and the new WEY brand from GWM is a new level of quality. The proposed market for this Mini EV is for China. There is a huge market in China for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles and they can be different quality to the Minis built in the UK.

      • AnthLC

        I am sure they are improving in quality and in a few years will rival or exceed quality of european cars, just like Japanese or Korean cars have done. But I brought a Mini cause it is a British motor car made and owned by BMW in UK. I would think twice about buying a Chinese made version. I only accept buying if assemblied in UK with Chinese components quality controlled and guarantee by BMW to be the same standards as factory in Europe. I am considering replacing my current Mini with this electric version. But I do have concerns if made wholly in China. BMW would be aware many Mini owners have the same concerns as me. I am sure they are considering how to reassure existing owners or potential buyers of a Chinese Mini is still the same thing. I post my comment more to let BMW know they do need to reassure.If they fail to reassure the public how this will work it could fail.

        • Wahrsager

          Please read this and the other articles again. They are not building this version for Europe. This is a different version for China! You are confusing two different products. The version built in the UK and the version built in China. BMW’s largest market is China. They BMW vehicles with Brilliance in China. These cars are NOT shipped to Europe or the US, they are only for China.

        • AnthLC

          We know it would only be a matter of time before they start shipping to other markets. Plus I am sure the Chinese elites would prefer the UK built car. Look if BMW decides to build Mini for the Chinese market alone then that is fine. But what would be the point of that. Mini is a UK car if BMW think a Chinese Mini will sell, well why would I not just buy a Great Wall instead of a Mini.

        • Nick Dawson

          AnthLC – just to clarify, BMW has recently confirmed its commitment to building the all-electric MINI E (the fifth ‘Superhero’ model) in Plant Oxford. The arrangement with GWM is to build the same car in China exclusively for sale in China, but with some local content. Plant Oxford will build the MINI E for the rest of the world, with production commencing next year.

          Looking to the future, there is also a second proposal, which is by no means a done deal, and that is for BMW and GWM to jointly develop a new platform for the next generation MINI, the G-series MINI Metro. If the deal goes ahead, BMW will take responsibility for the design and development of the platform, which will be shared with GWM to underpin its own version of the car. The first MINI version – the “Metro Runner” – will go on sale in 2023.

        • AnthLC

          I suppose will see when becomes a reality. I understand Nick and Wahrsager comments BMW confirms more for the Chinese market.

        • darex

          Aren’t the models built by Brilliance identical models to those also built elsewhere though?

        • Nick Dawson

          Not exactly, they have a longer wheelbase, and some local content. Nonetheless, they are built to the same BMW corporate standard.

    • darex

      Here’s the mystique of U.K. Heritage that I enjoy on my F60 Countryman: Stroopwaffels & Rotkohl, but not a trace of Branston Pickle!

  • Mr Remi

    Seems like a good thing to me. Recent generations of the brand have been expensive and unreliable. I don’t see a downside to one of the cars being built in China.

    MINI’s heritage may be British. But it’s present day incarnation is entirely cosmopolitan.

    I have a hard time believing that electrical and/or battery components from the UK could be superior to Chinese components. My laptop, smartphone and home entertainment system provide further examples of where global tech capabilities exist.

  • StinkChink

    We do not want death-trap Chinese junk cars.