LOS ANGELES -- BMW may make its Mini brand all-electric in the U.S. and is talking with other automakers to find partners to lower the cost of electrifying the brand, a senior executive said.
BMW plans to launch an electric Mini in 2019. Eventually, Mini could become an entirely electric brand, aimed at urban consumers, said Peter Schwarzenbauer, a BMW board member and Mini's boss.
BMW is talking to many automakers around the world, not only in China, about how to electrify smaller cars, he said.
Chinese automaker Great Wall Motor said last month it was discussing a joint venture with BMW to build Mini vehicles in China. Schwarzenbauer declined to discuss the Great Wall situation, saying "this was speculation."
However, he said building smaller electric cars was challenging, not only because of the financial costs, but also the engineering problem of fitting batteries with sufficient range into a smaller vehicle package.
BMW has worked with rivals before to share the costs of clean vehicle technology. The automaker has a partnership with Toyota to develop fuel cell vehicles.
BMW rival Daimler plans to convert its Smart minicar brand into an electric only marque in the U.S. as demand for many smaller cars has waned in favor of SUVs and trucks.
Mini sales in the U.S. through October fell 10 percent to 38,456 vehicles, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Smart sales plunged 38 percent to 2,775 vehicles over that period.
"It's really only in the U.S. where we are facing this with Mini," Schwarzenbauer said.
He said the way for Mini in the U.S. is to build the Mini brand "in the direction of the electric urban mobility company" rather than adding larger SUVs.
BMW currently only builds Mini vehicles at its main plant in Oxford, England, and at contract manufacturer VDL in the Netherlands, according to Automotive News Europe's car assembly plant map.
On a separate issue, Schwarzenbauer said BMW's self-driving car planned to debut in 2021 could be sold at a price that could be below $100,000. The iNext model, which BMW previewed earlier this year, will be offered to individuals, ride services fleets and put into service in BMW fleets, he said.
"By 2021, you will have a lot of people who want to own this car," he said. "It will be a normal price. We are thinking of scaling this. To bring a $150,000 electric car is nice, but it will not really scale."
When it launches, the iNext may not be offered with complete, so-called Level 5, autonomy because the regulatory and legal frameworks for such a vehicle likely won't be in place, Schwarzenbauer said.