The next big thing for Mini will be a little thing, a car that’s smaller than the current three-door hatch. It’ll be full-electric.
Good. Every one of BMW’s three generations of Mini hatch has been less miniature than the last, and on top it’s added the stretched five-door, the widened Clubman and the generally scaled-up Countryman.
Now it’s time to go the other way. Mini boss Bernd Körber has just told Top Gear: “In the next generation it’s possible to build a car smaller than today’s three-door hatch but with the same functionality and space and boot room. We’re looking at what’s the necessary footprint that fits with Mini’s history.”
Even if it can’t match the original 1959 Mini’s 3.05m shortness, Körber says using electric drive will be the way to cut this new car’s length. Mini has just introduced the all-electric Cooper S-E but that uses the same body as the regular Mini three-door. And actually today’s Mini platform can’t be shrunk.
Which inconvenient fact is what did for the 2011 Mini Rocketman concept.
So when the miniMini comes along, it’s going to use a new platform. The car will be made at a joint venture factory in China that Mini is building with Great Wall Motor, called Spotlight Automotive.
In the same week as Körber was taking to us, that plant got its approval from the Chinese authorities. It’ll be ready to build cars by 2022, says Great Wall.
“We’ve done partnerships before, we’re used to it,” says Körber, mentioning the shared engines the Mini has used – a Chrysler co-operation for the first BMW Mini, a Peugeot co-op for the second.
This car is part of a two-pronged aim to sell even more Minis than the current total of a third of a million a year. “We can grow, both in the number of models we sell and [by doing better in] more countries, especially China.” Another all-electric car, built there, is plainly going to tick both those boxes.
“And electrification suits Mini well. The instant feeling of power, and the handling because of the low centre of gravity.”
Körber adds that Mini’s urban profile is a good match. “Mini buyers won’t need more than 150 miles of range. They’re different from BMW buyers in how they use their car. They will have access to charging. There’s no sense in adding the cost and weight of additional battery.
“Up to 2030, Mini will have both combustion and electric cars.” Crikey, does that mean no petrol Minis after 2030? “I can’t say. But Mini will have a higher penetration of electric sooner than others. Our customers jump to new trends earlier. They’re more interested in sustainability.”
Which is ironic, given we’re talking at the Los Angeles show where Körber has just unwrapped the Mini Cooper S JCW GP. This hardcore definitely-petrol car rocks 306bhp and 164mph. Körber says, “I see more of special models like the GP. Performance-oriented and exclusive.”
That’s not the only kind of limited-run car he wants to do though. “There is more potential for luxury editions. We only did one of them, the Goodwood.” That was a 2012 limited edition retrimmed at the Rolls factory. It wrapped the cabin in fancy leather, lambswool, cashmere and walnut. The sort of thing that’d probably go best with silent electric drive, come to think of it.