On July 9, BMW proudly announced that its new Mini Electric will be available by March 2020. It is a typical Mini Cooper, like the ones already driving around, but then fully electric. According to BMW “The new MINI Cooper SE will be the first purely electric premium small car, paving the way to a sustainable yet at the same time highly emotional driving experience in urban traffic.” That sounds great.
Except that it isn’t. Sure, the design will appeal to the usual Mini customer. And like most other electric cars, the driving experience will be good. And the price tag of just under €35,000 seems reasonable too. But with just 235km, its range is far below par when compared to other electric cars that are available today and certainly in early 2020—such as the DS3 Crossback e-Tense, the Opel Corsa-e and the Peugeot e-208.
BMW might argue these are not “premium small cars” offering “a highly emotional driving experience.” Maybe. But even then, introducing a new electric car in 2020 with a range of no more than 235km is just not good enough. One would expect better from a respected brand such as BMW that already introduced its i3 a couple of years ago. But as we can infer from BMW’s press release and from their spokespersons, BMW apparently thinks the Mini Electric is a great car.
Looking at what they say, it seems that BMW greatly underestimates the importance of range. More specifically, their ideas about the range of electric cars and their belief that 235km is enough seem to be based on three thinking mistakes.
Thinking mistake 1: Average usage doesn’t determine desired range
BMW’s story for the Mini is that it is an urban car. And, as statistic show, people don’t drive very far on average and definitely far below the 235km of range it has. They are right about that. But average daily driving distance is not what defines the range people need. The range people need is the distance they travel every now and then—once a month or a couple of times a year—to their family or friends living somewhere else, the zoo or the ocean.
The same applies to the data bundle, the hard disk size, and even the number of chairs, spoons and cups people have. On a day-to-day basis, they only need so many. But a couple of times per year, they need more. And that’s the capacity they want. For cars, this works the same. Even though people mostly need just one or two seats, they want four or five seats for the few occasions that they need those. Along those same lines, average required range doesn’t determine the range people actually want.
Thinking mistake 2: An electric car’s actual weight doesn’t determine how light it feels
As Pieter Nota from BMW Netherlands explains, the small 32.6kWh battery has kept the weight of the Mini limited to 1,365kg. This, according to Nota, ensures that the car is not too heavy, giving it a light and dynamic driving experience. Of course, extra weight makes it harder to create such a driving experience. But what they don’t mention is that the driving experience of electric cars is already so much more direct and dynamic compared to diesel and petrol engine cars that the car’s actual weight matters far less.
Just drive a Tesla Model S (around 2,000kg), Tesla Model 3 (around 1,700kg) or Kia e-Niro (around 1,700kg), for example, and you experience the swiftness and lightness of these cars, despite their weight and large batteries. So, it is not the actual weight that matters, but how light the car feels when driving it.
Thinking mistake 3: No one wants to wait 30 minutes to charge their car
Another reason why the 235km would be enough, according to BMW, is that charging it to 80% takes just about 35 minutes. Rationally and economically that makes sense. If people only need a larger range every now and then, it doesn’t really matter if they need to charge it once or twice on their journey‚ especially if their journey is for pleasure. The extra hour waiting time is worth the significantly higher price one would pay for a larger battery, one would argue.
But this is a third thinking mistake (or selling argument) that also other car manufacturers make. In practice, no one wants to wait 35 minutes while on their way. People buy cars because cars offer the fastest way to get from A to B. Especially outside the city, no other means of transport can meet the convenience and speed of getting from door to door by car. An extra 35 minutes once, or even twice, significantly reduces the attractiveness of a car. Furthermore, the uncertainty about whether a charging spot will be available once arriving further decreases the car’s attractiveness.
Despite the big announcement and despite the Mini Electric being a nicely-designed car for a seemingly reasonable price, these three thinking mistakes indicate that the Mini Electric just isn’t a good car. It might have been if it had been introduced two or three years ago. But not anymore.
BMW seems to be approaching the Mini too rationally. Yes, rationally and technically their reasoning makes sense: on average 235km is enough, a lighter car is better, and waiting 30 minutes every now and then while charging is cheaper than a large battery. But cars aren’t just bought rationally. Emotions play a big role too. In this light, it is particularly interesting that they make these mistakes with the Mini. Because, as they argue themselves, the Mini Electric is supposed to offer “a highly emotional driving experience.”
Finally, as explained here, this is not the first issue with BMW making electric cars. While their i3 was successful, it is also an odd car if you look at BMW’s portfolio and brand. Apparently, looking at the Mini Electric, they still haven’t figured out how to do it.
This post was published earlier here on my forbes.com page.
Image credit: Bloomberg