Why the Next-Gen Mini Should Be Electric

By · July 30, 2013

Mini Vision Concept

The Mini Vision Concept is ultra-aerodynamic and uses lightweight materials throughout. Could it be adapted into a perfect EV platform? (BMW photo)

Will the new Mini Cooper, to debut at the end of this year and go on sale early in 2014, be offered in an electric model? As such, it would be a successor to the Mini-E that was the precursor to the all-electric BMW i3 unveiled yesterday. BMW isn’t confirming or denying anything, but there are hints in the design of the new Mini Vision Concept, recently unveiled in Munich, that suggest an electric future. I say bring it on.

The Vision is an evolution, not a revolution, in Mini styling. As the Telegraph points out, the car is “offering a glimpse of what’s to come”—some of the concept’s styling cues, such as the grille and bumper treatment, have been spotted in spy photographs.

Mini Vision Concept

The Mini Vision Concept incorporates tough "organo metal" parts made from natural fibers. (BMW photo)

The Vision puts a premium on saving weight and cutting drag with aerodynamic improvements, and those are essential elements of a plug-in platform (as well as fuel-efficient cars in general). Lightweight materials are used throughout the Vision, including “organo metal,” made by pressing natural fibers together. The wheels, mirrors and roof spoiler are all optimized for cheating the wind.

Powerplant Choices

Some of this will make it onto the next Mini platform, which will be front-wheel drive and shared with the 1-Series BMW. Powerplants are likely to include a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder and a two-liter turbo four. A diesel is also possible, and beyond that it's speculation, but interesting.

Because the Mini-E made such a splendid, and much-missed electric car, there was some speculation at the unveiling of the i3 megacity car in New York Monday that the next platform could be electrified in a production version. The upside is that it would be hugely fun to drive, as the Mini-E was. The Mini-E’s big (and highly amusing) regen braking effect is preserved in the ActiveE and thus the i3, and could be brought back to entertain future electric Mini customers. The downside is that such a car would take sales from the i3 if priced below it.

Jack Nerad, executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book, likes the idea, but doesn't think it will happen soon. "I think you could definitely make the case for an electric Mini off the new platform," he said. "I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen in the future. For the time being, however, I think BMW is seeking to reap a higher initial price point with the i3 than it might be able to justify in a Mini-E. We expect the i3 to offer a driving experience worthy of the BMW name, and if the company were to make an electric Mini we expect that would be fun to drive, too."

Not Happening...Now

BMW isn’t confirming any of this, of course. “No plans at the moment,” said spokesman Thomas Plucinsky. BMW’s Matthew Russell: “No such plans currently.” The “at the moment” and “currently” would seem to suggest it might happen at some future time. But Dave Buchko, whose portfolio includes advanced powertrains, adds, “I have not seen nor heard anything to suggest that this might be in the works.”

As John Gartner points out here on PlugInCars, German automakers are gearing up to go heavy on plug-in cars with an upscale flair, not only the i3 but also cars from Mercedes and Audi.

Mini Vision Concept Interior

The Mini Vision Concept interior: A little fanciful for production. (BMW photo)

The Mini-E field trial was limited to 450 cars in the U.S., with cars leased to customers in the New York area and Los Angeles. Many Mini-E drivers switched over to the 1-Series ActiveE when it became available. That car, which I drove in New York Monday, has proven worthy, but most drivers know the 1-Series coupe is just a placeholder for the i3’s drivetrain.

So what happened to the Mini-Es, which were often surrendered reluctantly? Well, 15 of them (and more likely to come), donated by BMW, are motionless on the campus of the University of Delaware, where they’re participating in a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) experiment. It may be a sad end for such a fun-to-drive car, but at least each car is earning $5 a day as its 35-kilowatt-hour battery gives pumps power to V2G partner NRG Energy.

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