BMW unplugs the electric Mini


BMW HAS DECIDED not to proceed with plans for the electric version of the Mini. Despite a clamour by car manufacturers to produce electric cars – Nissan will launch its first electric car in Ireland later this year and companies such as Mitsubishi and General Motors are well advanced with launch plans on the European market – BMW will now divert its resources to a “sub-brand”.

The company has had members of the public testing the electric MINI for a year now, but costs have proven prohibitive.

“Each one of the cars has cost around €100,000 to build and develop and there are too many restrictions. There have been problems not just with the cost but also with the range,” BMW’s UK head of corporate communications, Wieland Bruch, told The Irish Times.

In Britain, where 40 electric MINI’s have been on the road for almost a year now, the nominal range of the car on one charge is 150 miles, but drivers have been getting an average of 100. In winter time, when there are extra demands from the battery, that has been reduced to 80 miles. “With the battery we are where we were 100 years ago with the internal combustion engine. The problem is that there are issues with the durability, cost and weight of batteries,” said Bruch.

Asked if BMW’s competitors were proceeding in the wrong direction with the push to go electric, he said some companies were heavily subsidising their electric cars (after subsidies, Nissan’s Leaf will still cost €29,000 in Ireland). “What we offer for sale has to make money for us. The MINI e would cost too much to produce.”

The company will now proceed with an electric car for its Megacity range, due around 2013. Bruch said this was where the expertise gained from the electric MINI project would go. “That will be the focus now. We know now that we will have to start from the beginning with that new range. The MINI e was a conversion and we realise that we have to start with a completely new platform.”

Speaking of the problem with the driving range of current electric cars, he cast doubt on the notion that people would be happy to interrupt their longer journeys to charge the car. “We think a system of swapping or exchanging batteries quickly at a service station would be a better option than charging. What we don’t want to have to do is interfere with someone’s enjoyment of driving the car.”

At the moment, an electric car would probably not complete the journey from Dublin to Galway on one charge. Stopping for half an hour to charge would make the journey almost what it was before the new motorway was completed.