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.
If the new BMW-Great Wall platform project goes ahead, the 2023 Mini family will be quite different. There’s unlikely to be a cabriolet and the three-door bodystyle could also be dropped. Expect a compact five-door hatch and new Clubman and Countryman models that will be less bulky and rather more lithe than today’s cars, which are hampered (especially in the case of the five-door hatch) by having to be built on a platform designed primarily for vehicles from a larger segment.
Three-cylinder engines with mild-hybrid assistance will be standard issue on the new models. A pure-electric version of the platform, spun into two models, is part of Great Wall’s plan to offer seven EVs in its range by 2025.
The Mk4 Mini will still be made in the UK, but localised production for the Chinese market seems highly likely. In 2017, only 35,000 Minis were sold in China. The cost benefits of local production could boost that significantly.
Why BMW is looking to China:
One significant reason for BMW pursuing a platform deal with a Chinese maker is that the engineering costs will be notably lower than for a platform engineered in Europe. It’s not widely appreciated that the cost of engineering a new platform has to be amortised across every car that is built on it.
High wage costs for Western engineers (alongside factory workers, designers and management staff) is a massive issue for cars like the Mini, which are priced from £16,000 in three-door form. In stark contrast, the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer costs from £24,000, making it far easier to cover the cost of the European-engineered multi-fuel FAAR platform.