If the future of MINI is electric, the brand will have to make strides in what BMW describes as the world’s largest market for electromobility. Making battery-powered MINIs in China is crucial, and BMW has taken the first step by signing a letter of intent with Chinese carmaker Great Wall Motor (GWM).

The next steps will be to agree on the details of a possible joint venture and cooperation agreement and clarify aspects such as the choice of production location and concrete investments. This is just for manufacturing and BMW has no plans to set up an additional sales organisation in China.

The proposed JV with GWM is separate from BMW’s longstanding Chinese partnership with Brilliance. In addition to two production locations, BMW Brilliance Automotive already runs an engine plant, which includes a battery factory for electrified BMW brand vehicles produced in Shenyang. It’s the first battery factory operated by a premium carmaker in China.

Around 560,000 BMW brand vehicles were delivered to Chinese customers last year. For perspective, that’s more than BMW sales in the next two largest markets, the US and Germany, combined. In 2017, China was MINI’s fourth-largest market, with around 35,000 units delivered.

Munich says that sales and production growth in China has not led to a decrease in production at the company’s German plants. On the contrary, between 2007 and 2017, production in Germany increased by close to a quarter to around 1.15 million vehicles per year. At the same time, almost half of all BMW production now takes place at plants outside Germany. The carmaker reasons that a similar growth strategy for MINI will not affect its commitment in the UK. The MINI EV will roll out of the Oxford plant from 2019.

By the way, setting up JVs with local manufacturers is compulsory for foreign carmakers intending to set up shop in China, so it’s just a matter of who you’re getting in bed with.

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