The first all-electric Mini has been launched – and is being built in Britain exactly sixty years after its original predecessor revolutionised small car motoring.
The British car maker, owned by Germany’s BMW, hopes the new battery-powered Mini will electrify the market as much as the original, which became a symbol of the swinging sixties that was equally at home outside a suburban family house as a pop star’s trendy London pad.
The Mini Electric will be built at the same Oxford factory as its ancestor and the zero-emissions three-door hatchback with go-kart style handling aims to spark something of a price war against rivals with a starting price of under £25,000 after a £3,500 taxpayer-funded government subsidy.
There’s also the option of leasing it monthly from £299, after a £4,000 down-payment.
The new plug-in Mini Electric accelerates briskly from rest to 62mph in 7.3 seconds and will on to a top speed electronically restricted to 93mph.
Range has been quoted as between 124 miles and 144 miles, according to the latest official real world figures, under the WLTP measure.
Mini says that should be ample for most customers using theirs for urban or commuting trips averaging around 26 miles a day.
Whether that is enough to allay so–called range anxiety remains to be seen. This is a big issue for many potential electric car customers worried about running out of juice, especially given the current lack of full public charging point coverage.
By contrast, Tesla’s new £38,000 standard Model 3 has a range of 254 miles.
More than 15,000 potential customers have already expressed an interest in the new electric car, Mini said.
The fact that it is being built in Oxford is being seen as a vote of confidence in Britain – with a caveat.
BMW bosses had earlier warned that production could be shipped abroad under a no-deal Brexit, but the firm appears to have rowed back on that threat for now.
The UK is BMW’s fourth largest market and the third most profitable.
Mischievously, the Mini team even managed to secure a Brexit-style exemption from BMW bosses. The car – with its Union Flag red brake-lights and wheel hub-caps that resemble a British-style 3-pin electric plug – will be called Mini Electric in UK only.
Bosses argued it sounded far better in English compared to the rather anonymous Mini Cooper SE name, by which it will be known on the continent and elsewhere.
The Mini has grown in size over the years from the tiny ‘ten foot square box’ that automotive design genius Sir Alec Issigonis created six decades ago, in response to the need then for smaller and more fuel efficient cars to cope with an oil crisis caused by the Suez Crisis.
Today, the drive towards cleaner and greener cars has seen most major car-manufacturers offering electric alternatives to conventional petrol and diesel vehicles, which ministers have warned could be outlawed by 2040.
The electric Mini would be almost completely silent but new EU safety laws on battery vehicles means it must emit a distinctive sound, via loudspeakers at low speed, to protect pedestrians and the visibly impaired who may otherwise be unaware of its approach.
Mini opened the order books on the electric Mini, with production set to start in November and first deliveries next March.
They will be among the 1,000 cars a day (including petrol and diesel versions) coming off the same production line – at the rate of one every 67 seconds – at the Oxford plant which employs 4,500 people building 223,000 new cars a year, of which 80 per cent are exported.
On a fast charger (50KW direct current) the electric Mini can achieve 80 per cent of its charge in just 35 minutes, says Mini. That increases to 150 minutes – or two-and-a-half hours – on a standard home electric car AC 11KW wall-charger, plus an additional hour to gain a full charge.
Plug in to a domestic socket and a full charge will take around 12 hours.
The Mini Electric is powered by a 184 horsepower (135kW) motor, which draws its charge from a 32.6kWh high-voltage lithium ion battery arranged in 12 modules in a T-shape unit between the front seats and below the rear seats.
A digital dashboard will show the flow of current between battery and motor, the available range, and give tips on how to conserve energy or boost charge, while a toggle switch on dashboard allows the driver to choose the intensity of power regeneration from the braking to help recharge the battery on the move.
The Mini’s sat nav will also work out shortest, fastest and greenest route to a destination to conserve power.
BMW main board production director Oliver Zipse, who previously ran the Oxford factory, said: ‘We are entering an era in which electric cars will become a normal choice for our customers.
‘The Mini Electric will kick off our new model offensive for fully electric vehicles. By 2023, two years ahead of schedule, we will have 25 electrified models on the market. More than half of them will be fully electric’.
While more expensive than a standard Mini One, which starts at £16,195 on the road, the Mini Electric is £600 cheaper than the equivalent Mini Cooper S with an automatic gearbox.
Despite the heavy batteries it weighs only 145kg more than that car at 1,365kg and its centre of gravity is 30mm lower boosting driving dynamics.
It retains the standard Mini’s full 211 litres of boot-space, expanding to 731 litres when the rear backrests are folded down.
Director of Mini in the UK, David George, said the new vehicle combined everything about a Mini with the environmental and low running cost advantages of an electric car: ‘And they never have to visit a petrol station again’.
The Mini’s launch comes after Jaguar Land Rover announced last week it was investing heavily in new electric Jaguars at its Castle Bromwich factory near Birmingham, including a new battery-powered flagship XJ limousine.
Mini first set out their electrification plan with a prototype Mini-E, a small fleet of which were tested on UK roads in 2008 by a small army of volunteer guinea pig drivers who kept a log.
The results were fed into what became BMW’s electric i3 programme. But that early prototype had only two seats and no boot because of the space taken up with batteries.