BMW Overhauls Mini Factory for the Electric Age With UK Support

BMW AG will invest in the 110-year-old plant where the Mini brand was born, tapping the UK government for support to secure the factory’s future.

(Bloomberg) — BMW AG will invest in the 110-year-old plant where the Mini brand was born, tapping the UK government for support to secure the factory’s future.

The company’s multimillion-pound outlay toward electric Mini production in Oxford averts what would have been a disaster for the UK, where car production slumped last year to the lowest since 1956. The factory employing more than 3,400 people was dealt a setback 11 months ago when BMW announced it was shifting electric Mini output to China.

While the revival of electric Mini assembly in Oxford adds to recent momentum for the UK car sector, the country isn’t keeping pace with nations taking more aggressive approaches to industrial policy. The more than £6 billion ($7.5 billion) of investment announced in Britain’s auto industry since 2020 pales in comparison to the $72 billion that companies have earmarked for North America since the US passed the Inflation Reduction Act last year.

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Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch hailed the announcement BMW will make later Monday as proof that the government’s plan for the car sector is working. Stellantis NV started production of electric vans at its factory in Ellesmere Port last week, while Jaguar Land Rover owner Tata Group announced plans in July for a £4 billion UK battery plant that will start supplying cells in 2026.

BMW started building electric Mini hatchbacks in Oxford in 2019 alongside models powered by combustion engines. At its hometown auto show in Munich last week, the carmaker unveiled a next-generation Mini Cooper built off a dedicated EV platform co-developed with Chinese partner Great Wall Motor Co.

Had BMW opted to keep electric Mini production limited to China, it would have been a serious blow to the UK, where car production has fallen by half since the 2016 Brexit referendum. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders — the industry’s lobby group — has said high energy costs are the biggest obstacle to the sector mounting a comeback.

BMW will bolster its presence in the UK despite ongoing regulatory and trade uncertainty plaguing the industry.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has been trying to delay Brexit rules requiring EVs shipped back and forth between the UK and European Union to have enough local content to avoid 10% tariffs. Automakers expect to come up short of these rules of origin — which take effect next year and will be stricter in 2027 — because much of the battery supply chain is still concentrated in China.

The other headache for the industry has been the dearth of details regarding the UK’s zero-emission vehicle mandate, due to take effect in January. The government is still analyzing feedback elicited from a consultation that ended in May, and carmakers are sweating their ability to meet whatever targets are set for next year, given the cost-of-living crisis, high energy prices, reduced government incentives and slow installation of charging stations.

While battery-electric vehicles have been on the rise, with registrations soaring 72% last month, overall sales growth has been driven almost entirely by fleets and businesses.

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