Mini parent company BMW greenlights an electric-powered production version of the Rocketman, the U.K. brand’s ultracompact urban-based concept first displayed in 2011.
To be introduced in 2022, the 3-door hatchback will act as a new zero-emissions entry-level model within a realigned Mini lineup. Production will take place at Spotlight Automotive, a joint venture between BMW and its new Chinese-market partner Great Wall Motors in Jiangsu, China.
“We’re advancing plans for a model along the lines of the Rocketman,” a senior BMW official tells Wards. “It’s a car we have been looking at for a long time. But to build it profitably at the price point we think customers are prepared to pay, you need a joint-venture partner to share costs.
“Great Wall Motors has provided that opportunity with a shared electric-car platform that will be used by Mini.”
Designed by a team led by former Mini design director Anders Warming, the original 134.6-in.-long (3,419-mm) Rocketman was conceived to extend the Mini lineup into the city-car segment as a gasoline-powered rival to the likes of the Smart Forfour.
Yet despite a favorable response from potential buyers, its development was halted when talks between BMW and PSA Group (parent company to Peugeot and Citroen, among others) on a possible platform- and engine-sharing deal broke down.
Through its joint venture with Great Wall, BMW has revived plans for the entry-level Mini model.
While the original Rocketman was planned around a 3-cyl. gasoline engine, the Mini model being developed by Spotlight Automotive will offer electric power exclusively as part of BMW’s plans to launch 25 plug-in hybrid and all-electric models by the end of 2023.
It will complement Mini’s first-ever electric model, the upcoming Cooper SE, in an expanded lineup.
Nothing has been made official yet, though the production version of the China-built Rocketman likely will share elements of its underpinnings and electric driveline with the Ora R1, an urban-based compact hatchback launched in 2018 by Great Wall’s new Ora EV sub-brand.
At 137.6 ins. (3,495 mm) long, 65.7 ins. (1,669 mm) wide and 60.2 ins. (1,529 mm) tall, the retro-inspired R1 (below) boasts similar dimensions to the 2011 Rocketman concept.
It is powered by a front-mounted electric motor developing 47 hp and 95 lb.-ft. (129 Nm) of torque. Energy is provided by a standard 30.7-kWh or optional 33-kWh lithium-ion battery, providing the price-leading Ora model with an official range of 193 miles (311 km) or 218 miles (351 km), depending on the battery it uses.
Another Ora model, identified by Great Wall as the R2, will share the R1’s platform and driveline.
Great Wall on July 9 announced plans to establish installed battery production capacity of up to 120 GWh by 2025, in part to drive the expansion of its Ora sub-brand and its JV with Mini. Included in its battery production plans are factories in China, Europe and North America with respective capacities of 76 GWh, 24 GWh and 20 GWh.
News of Mini’s move to build a production version of the Rocketman in China closely follows Mercedes-Benz’s decision to sell 50% of its Smart city-car division to Chinese automaker Geely, which intends to develop a new generation of urban-based Smart EVs to be produced in China for export to global markets.