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The long-term future of Mini production in Britain has been secured, with BMW set to announce an investment of hundreds of millions of pounds in its factory at Cowley in Oxford.
The announcement, expected this morning, is likely to give the green light to the assembly of zero-emission battery electric Minis into the next decade. It is understood that the new investment is worth £600 million and has attracted UK taxpayer support of £75 million.
It will secure the future of thousands of workers at the factory and its component facilities at Hams Hall, near Coventry, and Swindon.
Before the announcement, Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, said: “BMW’s investment is another shining example of how the UK is the best place to build cars of the future.” Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, said it was a “huge vote of confidence” in Britain.
The announcement will be the latest positive news for the UK automotive sector, which had appeared to be falling behind in the electrification revolution. Kemi Badenoch, business and trade secretary, said it showed “the government’s plan for the automotive sector is working”.
Tata, the Indian parent of Jaguar Land Rover, said in July that it would build a battery plant, or “gigafactory”, in Somerset. Last week, the first Vauxhall Combo Electric vans started rolling off the assembly line at the old Astra factory in Ellesmere Port and Toyota has revealed that it has produced ten prototype zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell pick-up trucks at its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire.
That offset negative news earlier in the year, including Ford cutting 1,300 jobs at its research and development centre in Essex; the financial collapse of the planned Britishvolt battery gigafactory in Northumberland; and the abrupt closure with the loss of hundreds of jobs of Arrival, an electric van and bus company that was about to go into production in Oxfordshire.
Ministers are believed to have been jolted into supporting the Oxford plant after it was revealed in October that the next immediate generation of the electric Mini would be produced in China by BMW and its Chinese associate, Great Wall Motor.
Mini executives had warned of the operational difficulty and inefficiency at Cowley of running assembly lines producing both battery electric vehicles and cars with internal combustion engines. Stefanie Wurst, BMW’s head of the Mini brand, had told The Times: “Oxford is not geared up for electric vehicles. It will need renovation and investment.”
The factory is the second biggest car plant in the country after Nissan at Sunderland. BMW Mini, Nissan and JLR together account for three quarters of car production in the UK.
Mini is one of the great surviving heritage brands from the heyday of British motoring. Other such brands, including Rolls-Royce, based in West Sussex and also owned by BMW, and Bentley, based in Crewe, have pledged to be all-electric by 2030. Jaguar has said it will be an all-electric brand from 2025.