Autocar understands that plans for a new fourth-generation Mini have been pushed back and any new model will not appear before 2023. Even the major makeover scheduled for today’s Mini range in late 2019 might be canned as part of BMW’s comprehensive planning overhaul.
One plan for the Oxford-based brand would see BMW and Chinese car maker Great Wall teaming up to engineer a new small front-wheel-drive platform, which would be used for an all-new range of Minis to be launched from 2023.
Sources also say the fourth-generation Mini range is likely to shrink, with an axe hanging over future versions of the cabriolet and the three-door hatchback.
The dislocation of the Mini brand comes after BMW’s decision to shift production to just two platforms for all of its future models. These have been dubbed FAAR for front-wheel-drive cars and CLAR for rear-wheel-drive ones, as revealed by Autocar in December last year.
This strategic move, say insiders, has left Mini’s future up in the air because the FAAR architecture is too expensive and too big to underpin future Mini models.
As BMW platform strategist Lutz Meyer told Autocar, both the FAAR and CLAR platforms will be engineered to allow vehicles to be produced with internal combustion engines, as plug-in hybrids and as pure- electric models.
The electric motor on the hybrid versions of the new- generation vehicles will drive the axle not powered by the internal combustion engine. This engineering layout means that future BMW plug-in hybrids will be all-wheel drive.
Such a complex ‘multi-fuel’ platform will be more expensive to engineer and produce than today’s rather simpler, front- wheel-drive UKL platform, which underpins the Mini family and BMW models such as the 2 Series Active Tourer and X1.
For BMW, the FAAR and CLAR architectures are essential because it is proving difficult to predict with accuracy future buying patterns and the extent to which drivers will swap to pure- electric vehicles.
As a global brand, BMW also has to cover individual market moves in different countries. For example, China is switching to electric cars at a much faster rate than Western markets.
Furthermore, the Mini brand’s fundamental problem is that it is a relatively small part of the BMW operation. In 2017, the BMW Group sold 2.46 million vehicles. Of that total, Mini accounted for 372,000 units globally — a sixth of the company’s output.
Crucially, however, the six-model Mini range shares technology with a number of BMWs (including the new X1 and X2 crossovers) and total production of the front-drive UKL platform is a very healthy 850,000-plus units annually.
Even so, when BMW begins the shift to the FAAR platform from 2021, production of the UKL platform will be phased out.
This is the hard industrial logic that lies behind BMW’s attempts to broker a deal with another car maker to engineer a new platform that is modern and safe but less complex and expensive to produce.
Industry rumours suggest that BMW held extensive talks with Toyota on a co-operative project, but that came to nothing. A deal with Great Wall looks more promising because BMW and the Chinese maker have already formed a 50/50 joint venture. Called Spotlight Automotive, it will produce an electric version of today’s Mini in China.