BMW Looks to Bring Mini Production to China for the First Time

  • Discussions at preliminary stage, Great Wall Motor says
  • Companies haven’t signed agreement to set up joint venture

A painted Mini Cooper automobile body frame, produced by Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW), passes along the production line in Oxford.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

BMW AG is in early talks with China’s biggest maker of sport utility vehicles about the possible production of Mini cars in the country, potentially marking the brand’s first manufacturing project outside of Europe.

Great Wall Motor Co. and BMW agreed in February to discuss cooperating on Mini, though the discussions are still preliminary and the companies haven’t entered a joint venture, the Chinese automaker said Friday in a Hong Kong stock exchange statement. Propelling Mini’s growth in the country, where the U.K. nameplate has sold 25,000 vehicles this year, “is only possible with a local partner,” BMW said in an email without specifying Great Wall by name.

BMW already builds cars of its namesake brand in China in a venture with Brilliance China Automotive Holdings Ltd. BMW and Mini deliveries in the country rose 7.1 percent from a year earlier in September, according to figures the Munich-based automaker released Friday, more than double the Chinese market’s 3.3 percent growth for the month.

The discussions between Baoding, China-based Great Wall and BMW are focused on building the small car for export, people familiar with the discussions said Thursday. The German company said Friday that its worldwide growth strategy for Mini “includes diversification of partnerships and new cooperation models,” without specifying production targets.

The carmaker pledged in July to build electric models at its factory in Oxford, England, and any plans to expand in China don’t affect the brand’s commitment to Britain, BMW said.  

Auto manufacturers have been concerned about how the U.K.’s move to exit the European Union will affect any tariffs on parts they import and vehicles they export, as government talks have snagged on terms of the country’s departure. The U.K. auto market shrank 9.3 percent in September, the first decline in the key sales month since 2011, in part because of uncertainty over Brexit.

Founded by billionaire Chairman Wei Jianjun, Great Wall has become China’s leading SUV producer by offering consumers spacious models at prices cheaper than sedans from the likes of Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co. The Chinese carmaker doesn’t have a manufacturing partner from abroad, and its shares have lagged behind rivals this year, with those of Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. more than tripling in Hong Kong in 2017 as Great Wall’s rose 56 percent.

Great Wall’s Hong Kong-traded stock was suspended earlier this week amid Chinese press reports of a possible tie-up with BMW. The company has applied for trading to resume on Oct. 16.

— With assistance by Ying Tian, Yan Zhang, Tom Lavell, and Elisabeth Behrmann

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