PHEV Mini has NZ distributor wired

Will Mini-philes be interested in an electric edition of the biggest version of the image-lifting brick? BMW New Zealand seems to think so.


CONFIRMATION that BMW’s Mini brand will join the parent operation’s electric car drive has been followed by the New Zealand distributor green-lighting its own high interest in the project.

While BMW New Zealand has stopped short of saying it is definitely going to buy into the first Mini model set to go to battery-first drive - the next-generation Countryman going into production next year – a spokesman’s comment has left little doubt that this is highly likely.

Speaking to the official sneak peek head office has just afforded of the plug-in electric hybrid version of the second-generation crossover, which unveils in orthodox form later this month, local corporate communications manager Paul Sherley acknowledged BMW here is keen to further expand its already generous ohm charge.

He also reckons bringing Mini into the power game is logical.

He said his office was “very excited” by the parent brand’s determination to tease the new model by showing its near-production petrol-electric prototype plugged into the mains.

“Any opportunity for Mini to offer plug-in hybrid technology is very positive and locally, and globally, supports our position for sustainable mobility and increasing the number of electric vehicles on the roads.

“So it’s certainly complementary to what we are doing on the road already with BMW.”

BMW New Zealand’s i3 – now available in pure electric as well as engine-assisted range extender form –  would be the most logical alternate to the plug-in Countryman price-wise, though in respect to dimension it might sit closer to the cheapest plug-in with Munich’s badge, the 2-Series Active Tourer.

The electric drive goes further, of course, all the way up to the $276,000 i8. Plug-in hybrid eDrive-badged editions of the 3-Series, X5 and 7-Series are also now on sale.

The new 5-Series sedan that comes on sale here in February is also going to spawn a PHEV edition that seems set to be made available locally in time and Germany has just signed off on an all-electric version of the X3 in its next generation. That too has local market potential.

In addition, BMW NZ is also partnering with a private enterprise company in the creation of a chain of fast-chargers along State Highway One, to create a fully national electric highway. That project should be up and running by 2018.

Could 2018 also be the year of arrival for this zapped-up Countryman – which appears to have a petrol engine operating the front wheels (as per the usual Mini format) and the electric motor driving the rears?

Says Sherley: “All I can say at the moment is that we don’t have any information to share on what and when exactly.”

Asked if Mini customers here have been asking about electric drivetrains, he replied: “As I say it really fits in with what BMW globally and locally is doing – there is certainly a greater push toward both plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles and the Mini edition of this technology is certainly fitting in with our aims and strategy.”

Asked if he thought there was still potentially for a wholly electric Mini, he replied: “The technology mentioned is plug-in hybrid … I don’t have any information on that (a full electric).”

Being bigger and more spacious than the current car, thanks to transference to the new UK1 platform, seems to make the next-gen Countryman – which replaces a model that has been in circulation for six years - a good host for the PHEV powertrain, which is surmised to be the familiar 100kW/220Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, with a 65kW electric model, that goes into the $68,500 225xe Active Tourer. Certainly, it has the same formats of a Auto eDrive to balance petrol and electric power, Max eDrive and a Save Battery mode.

MINI has revealed that the hybrid is capable of up to 125kmh in pure EV mode and “long-lasting electric driving”. It also cites that the chassis and suspension is unchanged over the standard Countryman, with electric components balanced across  both axles for better weight distribution.