The second hint is that BMW may consider building the new 1 Series hatchback at its UK plant. The new entry-level BMW will be based on the front-wheel-drive FAAR platform – a further-developed version of that which currently underpins the Mini – so could theoretically also be manufactured at Plant Oxford.
The 1 Series has always sold relatively well in the UK, occasionally appearing in the top 10 best-sellers chart. Building the car in the UK would be made easier because engines could be sourced from BMW’s Hams Hall factory near Birmingham and exterior body panels from Swindon. UK production could also boost domestic sales of the new 1 Series.
Interestingly, BMW’s pressing operation at Swindon applied for outline planning permission for a new industrial building in August last year. Although BMW’s application insisted that it was not necessarily going to invest in Swindon, the proposal is for a substantial 12,880-square-metre building. It currently employs nearly 900 people to produce the exterior panels for the Mini.
Although overall Mini production remained very healthy in 2018, there was a shift in fortunes among models, with sales of three- and five-door hatchbacks down by 7% in the first six months of the year. As a result, the Nedcar factory in the Netherlands, which makes Mini models under contract, had to cut around 1000 jobs from its 7000-strong workforce.
While the hatchbacks were the biggest sellers, at 90,962 units, the more profitable models such as the Countryman saw demand leap to 48,691 – up 40% compared with the first six months of 2017. Clubman sales dropped by 21% to 23,622 and the Convertible by 3% to 18,154.
Falling sales of the cheaper (and much less profitable) Mini hatches is likely to accelerate because plans for the major reskin of the car are rumoured to have been shelved while BMW considers a partner for a future new-generation Mini.
The upshot is that it makes sense for Plant Oxford to build the more profitable models such as the Countryman and the upcoming electric Mini. Producing the new BMW 1 Series would further bolster Plant Oxford by at least 50,000 units per year.
Even so, the huge cost pressures now faced by car makers was further underlined by recent rumours that BMW and Mercedes may join forces on engineering a new compact platform for the 2025 1 Series and A-Class. Making cars profitably in western Europe is getting harder by the year.
New 2019 BMW 1 Series: specs, details and all the variants