Is UK missing critical opportunity in its EV aspirations? Expert Matt Hardwick weighs in

BMW Group has announced a substantial investment exceeding £600 million in its Mini factories located in Oxford and Swindon. This major development signifies a pivotal shift in the automotive industry towards electric mobility. The Oxford facility is set to take centre stage in producing two new all-electric Mini models starting in 2026, namely the 3-door Mini Cooper and the compact crossover Mini Aceman.

This plant will serve as a versatile hub, producing both internal combustion engine (ICE) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) on the same assembly line. As early as next year, it will commence production of the next generation Mini 3-door and Mini 5-door models with combustion engines, alongside the introduction of the new Mini Convertible. However, a dramatic transformation is on the horizon as the plan is for all production to be exclusively electric by 2030, a move underpinned by a total investment exceeding £3 billion in BMW Group’s Swindon, Hams Hall, and Oxford plants since the year 2000.

Milan Nedeljković, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for production, emphasised the significance of this investment by stating, “With this new investment, we will develop the Oxford plant for production of the new generation of electric Minis and set the path for purely electric car manufacturing in the future.”

Crucially, this momentous development has garnered support from the UK Government, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak noting, “BMW Group’s investment is another shining example of how the UK is the best place to build cars of the future. By backing our car manufacturing industry, we are securing thousands of jobs and growing our economy right across the country.”

However, amidst the enthusiasm surrounding BMW’s investment in Oxford, there are concerns raised by industry experts, such as Matt Hardwick, projects & energy transition partner at Akin:

“While the investment is encouraging news, there appears to be little by way of a strategy in the UK to build a fully integrated battery value chain that will further stimulate collocated EV manufacturing capacity across the board as well as skills, job creation, and tax revenues.

We have the lithium deposits, the lithium refining capacity in planning, and an opportunity to develop state-of-the-art giga factories that can supply a range of EV manufacturers and battery storage facility developers across the UK and beyond. We need to learn from the mistakes of the past and get behind the businesses that are ready and waiting to deliver on what may be a generational opportunity for economic and industrial development. If we don’t, other countries surely will, and once these value chains are established and the skills, jobs, and further industrial investment coalesce around them, they will be very difficult to later disrupt. This is a time-limited opportunity.”

While BMW’s investment in Oxford and its commitment to electric vehicle production are hailed as significant steps towards the future of the automotive industry, there are valid concerns that the UK needs a more comprehensive strategy to harness the full potential of EV manufacturing, including developing a robust battery supply chain and associated infrastructure.

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