BMW and Mini are set to share an all-new platform — and three and four-cylinder engines — to create an army of front-wheel-drive cars that could notch up a million sales a year

Could Mini have survived to a third-generation model without the involvement of BMW?

There are cold-eyed City analysts who will tell you that although Mini made a profit on every car it sold — often quite a healthy profit — it probably did not fully pay back the big industrial investment. 

Indeed, until the launch of the Countryman, Mini was only selling just over 200,000 cars a year across five model lines. Could BMW have sensibly invested in a new platform, new tooling and a range of five models on sales of 200k? Probably not. The Countryman helped the case for Mini by adding 100,000 sales a year.

About four years ago, BMW decided to start building front-drive cars under its own badge. By building two ranges of front-wheel-drive (and all-wheel-drive) cars, BMW can dramatically improve the profitability of the Mini range.

So now it’s time for Mini to get serious. Design is under the control of Anders Warming, who will have overseen all of the new Mini designs that will come after the new three-door hatch. Mini plans to add at least three new body styles. The saloon will be primarily aimed at booming Asian cities. Mini will also get a proper baby MPV, and in turn the Countryman will become more of a true compact SUV and less of an oddly proportioned supermini.

Perhaps the model that will do most to drive Mini sales up will be the new five-door hatchback. It is not much longer than the three-door, but BMW has squeezed in a pair of conventionally hinged rear doors primarily designed to accommodate children. 
Three-door superminis are slowly being dropped because of tiny sales, so it shows the potential for a five-door Mini.

Later this month Mini will reveal its new marketing line ‘Not Normal’ on a series of three posters. This campaign is understood to push the idea that Mini owners are strongly individual and creative. 

There’s also a more radical decision to be made by Mini in the near future: will it piggyback the BMW electric scooter project and build a two-wheeled Mini to exploit the massive Asian market for such city transport?

UKL1: BMW’s massive investment

THE UKL1 platform is a massive investment for BMW, but it is one that could, according to analysts, eventually allow BMW to produce more than 900,000 cars per year. So far, the company has remained tight-lipped about the amount it has invested, but an all-new platform and the equipment needed for four different production sites won’t have been cheap.

UKL1 is a typically modern modular architecture that is expected to come in three wheelbases and at least two different seat heights. As these future product plans show, UKL1 will underpin a very wide range of compact vehicles, from 3.8m to about 4.4m in length. 

While the Mini has used a mix of engines over the past 12 years (BMW, Chrysler, Toyota and PSA), BMW has ensured that its new corporate engine range can be mounted both longitudinally and transversely. There will also be a plug-in hybrid drivetrain for the UKL1 cars, but while BMW has built 3-series prototypes with three-cylinder engines, it says it has no production plans for the cars.

UKL1 Minis will be produced at Oxford alongside models from the current Mini range. That will require considerable logistics expertise because the factory will be producing two entirely different model lines. BMW has already said it will also be building the Mini Mk3 at the Nedcar factory in the Netherlands, because sources expect ìa big leap in demandî. BMW will produce the 1-series in Germany and China.

BMW’s plunge

The move into 
front-wheel-drive production is a huge move for a company long convinced that it was defined by its rear-wheel-drive cars. BMW first thought about building a front-wheel-drive 
car at the beginning of the 1990s. A small number of 
front-wheel-drive prototypes based on the E36 3-series 
were evaluated. 

After the eco panic at the beginning of the 1990s, BMW was convinced that it should be building smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. But the management of the time was equally convinced that the BMW badge could not be attached to either a frugal front-drive car or an SUV — markets that were identified for expansion two decades ago.

It was this view that directly led in 1994 to BMW buying the Rover Group, known for both front-drive and four-wheel-drive vehicles. We all know what happened over the next six years, but BMW decided in 2000 to keep the new Mini project, which was then less than two years from launch.

The Mini brand became a hit for BMW, a combination of impressive driving dynamics and styling that caught the trend for modern retro design. But BMW was so sure that it would not build a small car that it badged its smallest model 1-series to prove the point. Now these new front-drive cars will get the 1-series badge.

But BMW’s decision to invest heavily in a brand-new front-drive platform and a range of bespoke transverse engines was driven by two issues. First, Mini, with 300,000 sales, was still relatively small as a stand-alone operation. Secondly, BMW needed to follow downsizing trends and reduce its corporate average fuel economy.

The BMW board pressed the button on the front-drive project when research about 1-series buyers revealed that 80 per cent of owners did not know whether their car was front or rear drive. Most of the remaining 20 per cent drove the 1-series coupÈ. This time, BMW has not hesitated. It has 12 models on the drawing board, from an MPV and high-roofed five-door hatch to a baby roadster.

Our Verdict

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Comments
26

21 July 2013

What, no hysterical anti-MINI comments? Nobody saying a front wheel drive BMW is a travesty? How disappointing, I must be in the wrong place.

21 July 2013

catnip wrote:

What, no hysterical anti-MINI comments? Nobody saying a front wheel drive BMW is a travesty? How disappointing, I must be in the wrong place.

This will certainly be a means of getting the unit costs of  Minis down. Then BMW can sell them at a more appropriate price if tha suits them although the cynic in me suspects it will be used as a way to increase margins.

As for front wheel drive versus rear wheel drive, I suggest this has more to do with late night conversations in the Dog and Duck than the rearl world. I know someone who changed from BMW to Audi purely because he lives in an exposed location. Front wheel drive enables him to cope with icy conditions without having to resort to the expense and trouble of a set of winter tyres. Not everyone is a motoring fanatic.

21 July 2013

BMW produced rear-wheel drive cars for many years, like Mercedes. I can't understand the advantage of front-wheel drive - from an engineering point of view, it is more efficient to push rather than pull. From a petrolhead's point of view, RWD means it is far easier to throw the tail when cornering. I would expect that BMW, with all their cold reasoning, would understand the engineering point of view, if not the petrolhead's point of view.

Bodge to the Future

21 July 2013

Ford_Prefect777 wrote:

BMW produced rear-wheel drive cars for many years, like Mercedes. I can't understand the advantage of front-wheel drive - from an engineering point of view, it is more efficient to push rather than pull. From a petrolhead's point of view, RWD means it is far easier to throw the tail when cornering. I would expect that BMW, with all their cold reasoning, would understand the engineering point of view, if not the petrolhead's point of view.

 

"Cold reasoning" seems a bit in short supply here. Anyone "throwing the tail when cornering" on the daily commute will be regarded as someone who tends to give credence to the widespread erroneous view of people in BMW's as lacking in consideration for other road users.

BMW are certainly not lacking in "cold reasoning" hence the ruthless plug pulling of the WRC effort when the Mini Countryman did not really deliver results. They will have noticed the results in the 2013 J.D. Power Survey when not one BMW/Mini vehicle featured in the top ten. Yes such surveys are to be regarded cautiously but it does not suggest any wild enthusiasm by many drivers of these makes for their vehicles. We are supposedly talking of "premium" vehicles after all.

Expect a number of changes which many of an old fashioned turn of mind will not like at all

21 July 2013

Interesting how with this strategy BMW-Mini has regained under its core brands pretty much everything that it lost in selling Rover and has obviated any perceived need to reintroduce other brands such as Triumph. Clever stuff.

All that's missing is a Mini.

22 July 2013

rmcondo wrote:

Interesting how with this strategy BMW-Mini has regained under its core brands pretty much everything that it lost in selling Rover and has obviated any perceived need to reintroduce other brands such as Triumph. Clever stuff.

All that's missing is a Mini.

Lets also not forget, a box on wheels with a BMW badge, can be sold for a far higher unit price than a brilliant car with a Triumph or other reintroduced badge, its all about the badge, school run mums will love the added rear leg room and bootspace of a FWD BMW, fleet managers will love the reduced running costs, and idiots will run around shouting blasphemy.

BMW sold it soul to the accountant years ago, they dont give a flip about the enthusiast, its all about profit margins. The figures for the 3 series are brilliant, that can not be denied, but the product isnt as good as it was, the shape is bland, the 4 cylinder engines are a bit rough (then again historically they always have been). The perceived amazing reliability and build quality is a myth, they havent been the "Ultimate Driving Machine" for years..

A fWD BMW will not damage the marque, the true BMW is already dead, a FWD BMW will increase its market share and steal sales from the likes of the new A Class, the A3 and the Golf, and also from the higher spec bread and butter Astra and Focus.

 

21 July 2013

This is clearly good business sense as it will cut enormous swathes of cost out of the development of new models.

The question is will the customer benefit from this?

Mini is a successful front wheel drive brand that has created more variants than I honestly thought was ever possible, but its has made a success of them all.

BMW is a success rear wheel drive brand and has spent a lot of time in the past making that rear wheel drive a core part of its brand values and as a result attracting rear drive enthusiasts to become loyal customers.

The question is simply will this move to front wheel drive for some models in the BMW range damage that reputation, particularly at a point when Alfa has decided to ditch front drive entirely and other manufacturers like Toyota are investing in inexpensive rear drive sporty vehicles?

 

21 July 2013

BMW successfully completed a similar about-turn in engineering philosophy and brand-identity when it introduced chain-drive onto its motorcycles. Went from strength-to-strength after that with both drives complementing each other in its range. I expect the same with front, rear and four wheel drive cars. By the way - we have three rear-wheel drive cars in our household but would consider front-wheel drive depending on the car. 

21 July 2013

Presumably this is based on well researched data, but the Corsa, Fiesta, Swift and, no doubt, several other superminis still sell 3 door versions and you do see loads on the road.

Personally, I have no need of a 5 door small car and I object to being told that my needs will not be catered to in the future.  According to the diagram there will be a 3 door 1 series based on the new platform, but this will be a "bigger supermini" so that's all right then.

As for 1 series drivers being unsure of whether their cars were front or rear wheel drive..... presumably they don't drive about on snow.  The lack of traction is normally a big clue.

21 July 2013

Irrelevant of any objection to the needs of the buyer, all manufacturers will base products on forcasted sales, and if a three door is deemed to be a non starter, then they wont bother with it, the same practise covers every part of a car, it comes down to pennies in the end and not what one customer may want.

 

As for front against rear, I have driven both, and yes, you can tell the difference if you feel for it, but as 99% of the motoring public dont care about that sort of thing then it is wise for BMW to go to FWD, especially if it cuts costs on the MINI brand, but the cost of the car will not drop, they are not that generous.

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