BMW has followed Volvo's lead, and announced that similar to the Swedes, it's committing to making electric or plug-in hybrid versions of every car in its range. That's not perhaps the biggest promise ever – after all, you can already buy a plug-in hybrid Mini Countryman, 2 Series, 3 Series, 5 Series, 7 Series and X5, but it is a definite move in what Munich sees as the right motoring direction.
The first on-sale fruits of this new plan will be the long-awaited all-electric Mini, which will go on sale in 2019. The Countryman is already available with a plug-in hybrid powertrain, but the first all-battery Mini will be a three-door hatchback model. BMW isn’t yet making any claims for one-charge range nor performance, but something close to what a current i3 is capable of would seem likely; roughly 200km on a single charge.
It’s a long-gestating project. A decade ago, BMW used a tiny number of hand-built electric Mini prototypes, handed out to regular customers and drivers, to start getting a feel for how people would use and drive electric cars, and their attendant infrastructure.
This full production model's electrical systems will be built in Germany, and then shipped to be mated with body and chassis in the Mini factory in Oxford – a move that partially ameliorates worries that the UK side of Mini would lose work to continental Europe, post-Brexit.
Don’t count on that lasting for long, though. BMW has already indicated that it wants to keep its electric operations lean, and be able to build every version of each car (petrol, diesel, hybrid, electric) on the same production line in the same factory, so the Anglo-German fudge for the Mini-e could be a way of hedging Brexit bets.
The next electric model to follow on from that will be an all-electric version of the new X3 SUV, which will go on sale in 2020, and then in 2021, the long-awaited third model in BMW’s “born electric” i-range. Still codenamed i-Next, this new car will be built in the same factory in Dingolfing, Bavaria where BMW makes the 5 Series and the 7 Series, suggesting that it will use the same component set and potentially be BMW’s first-ever all-electric exec saloon.
Oliver Zipse, BMW AG management board member for production, said, "BMW group plants Dingolfing and Landshut play a leading role within our global production network as the company's global competence centre for electric mobility. Our adaptable production system is innovative and able to react rapidly to changing customer demand. If required, we can increase production of electric drivetrain motor components quickly and efficiently, in line with market developments."
BMW says it wants to see electric and hybrid sales climb to between 15-25 per cent of its total sales by 2025, but that this will depend on factors such as regulation, incentives and charging infrastructure [which] will play a major role in determining the scale of electrification from market to market.”
Meanwhile, BMW's sometime technology partner Toyota is working on a new battery technology that could see ranges climb and charging times fall. According to Japan's Chunichi Shimbun newspaper, Toyota is working towards a possible on-sale date of 2022 for a new model featuring solid-state batteries, which have the potential to store more power, and charge far faster, than current liquid-based lithium-ion ones. Toyota hasn't commented on the speculation yet, but it is planning to launch an all-electric model, its first, in 2020, with an expected one-charge range of 300km.