Mini’s first series-production battery electric vehicle is better suited for a spirited run across town than multiday road trip.
On Tuesday, BMW's iconic British brand launched the Mini Cooper SE. Assembly begins in November in Oxford, U.K., with U.S. deliveries expected in early 2020. U.S. pricing was not disclosed, but it will start at 32,000 euros ($35,800) in Europe.
The Cooper SE offers Mini’s traditional “go kart” handling. It’s powered by a 135 kilowatt motor that delivers 181 hp and is capable of going from 0 to 62 mph in 7.3 seconds.
Timed for Mini’s 60th anniversary, the EV arrives as the brand grapples with an existential crisis. Customers, especially in the U.S., have ditched microcars for roomy crossovers.
U.S. sales peaked at 66,502 in 2013. Mini declared that year that it would sell more than 100,000 vehicles per year here by 2020. Last year, U.S. sales fell 7.3 percent to 43,684 vehicles, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Mini is expected to sell 36,000 vehicles in the U.S. this year, according to a lawsuit filed by the brand’s former dealer council chairman. Sales through June fell 22 percent to 17,583 vehicles.
Mini needs to find a new niche, said Sam Fiorani, vice president at AutoForecast Solutions.
“Evolving Mini into a performance EV brand could be the new direction Mini needs for the future,” Fiorani said.
A top BMW executive has suggested the Cooper SE could foreshadow the future of Mini.
“Electromobility is an excellent fit for our urban, progressive and open-minded customers,” Peter Schwarzenbauer, BMW Group board member formerly responsible for the Mini brand told Automotive News Europe at the Geneva auto show earlier this year. “To secure the long-term future of Mini, we will enable the range to be all electric, should the customer prefer that.”
Missing the mark
If Mini is seeking salvation, it’s unlikely to find it in the new three-door Cooper SE. The EV, available in three trims, is a coupling of two existing models.
It shares the body style and proportions of the current two-door Mini Hardtop, last redesigned in 2014.
“The Mini Cooper SE is a model that would have been quite competitive and impactful to the brand…five years ago,” said Ed Kim, analyst with AutoPacific. “At that time, the third generation Mini hardtop body style was all-new.”
Rather than build the SE on a new platform, similar to what Jaguar did with the iPace and Chevrolet with the Bolt, BMW used the same powertrain as its battery electric i3s subcompact. BMW is developing its fifth-generation electric powertrain that will debut on the new iX3 electric crossover expected to go into production next year.
“Taking a proven drivetrain from the i3s and adding it to the more affordable Mini body combines for a nice performance package without sacrificing the interior room,” Fiorani said.
The SE’s motor and power electronics are packaged in a sub-assembly that fits in the same space as a conventional Mini’s engine and transaxle, according to Autoweek, an affiliate of Automotive News. The T-shaped, 12-module battery pack sits along the vehicle floor, helping lower the center of gravity and improving handling.
At the heart of the SE is a 32.6 kilowatt-hour battery anticipated to have an EPA-estimated range of about 114 miles. That handicaps the new entrant in the world of modern electrics, where 200-plus miles of range is considered table stakes.
“The Cooper SE’s short range leaves very little in the way of USPs [unique selling point] in its favor, and its short range will have most EV shoppers simply skip the Mini dealership altogether without even exploring the car further,” Kim said.
While the SE won’t go far on a single charge, filling the battery won’t take too long. Using DC fast charging, the EV can recharge its battery to 80 percent in 35 minutes.