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BMW to move Oxfordshire production of electric Minis offshore

Daniel Thomas reports.

BMW is preparing to end production of the electric Mini U.K., sparking fears about the future of the Cowley-based Mini factory Plant Oxford.

Located on the outskirts of the city, the factory builds 40,000 electric Minis a year, and is the largest industrial employer in Oxfordshire. BMW, through a partnership with Chinese manufacturers Great Wall Motors, plans to move production offshore to an unspecified location in China from 2024, in a move likely to jeopardize plans for the future of zero- emission vehicle (ZEV) manufacturing in Britain.

This partnership will see the production of BMW’s electric hatchback and small SUV models move to China, along with the pioneering zero-emission Mini Aceman. Furthermore, the company’s largest electric model, the Countryman, will be produced in Leipzig from 2023 onwards.

There are no dates or timeframe on when Mini production might return to Oxford, and the company plans to remove ZEV production and assembly lines from the Cowley factory as part of a general renovation, citing inefficiencies in the manufacturing process.

BMW maintains that Oxford “will remain at the heart of Mini production”, and that the move will not result in any redundancies or job losses in Oxford. BMW still intends to build models with internal combustion engines at Plant Oxford, with no intention to halt production until the 2030s.

Nonetheless, the company intends to ensure all Mini products are ZEVs in the same timeframe, and it is not yet clear how exactly their Oxford operations fit into this plan.

Council Leader Susan Brown of Oxford City Council expressed concerns over the move, stating that she was “disturbed to see reports about […] the future of the BMW Mini plant in Oxford”, which she described as an integral part of the city’s “strong manufacturing heritage”. However, having sought “reassurances” from BMW about their future plans for the Mini range, she confirmed that the company retains an “ongoing commitment to the city”, citing “significant investments” in the Cowley site in recent years.

Brown also expressed pride in City Council’s “shared commitment” with BMW to the target of a “zero-carbon Oxford by 2040”, and suggested that the council’s partnership with the company remains likely to continue in the future.

The offshoring of Mini ZEV production, which further imperils hopes for Britain’s future as a green manufacturing hub, is the latest in a number of setbacks to the U.K. automotive industry. Earlier this year, Honda’s plant in Swindon closed, taking 3,500 jobs with it.

Some have linked these closures to post-Brexit supply and trade problems, but BMW denies any link between these issues and their decision to cease electric Mini production.

Image Credit: [Lobster1]/[CC BY-SA 3.0] via [Wikimedia Commons]

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