MINI Recharged: Retrofitting is on the rise by Paul-Edouard Urbain

Future environmental standards and legislation will make sure car manufacturers offer only clean vehicles. Low emission zones and other restrictions targeting so-called over-polluting vehicles are springing up all over Europe’s major cities. However, Mini found a way around these difficulties in combining the charm of the good old days with high technology.

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The classic Mini was born in an era full of rationing, in the middle of the oil crisis. In order to meet the needs of low-income families, Alec Issigonis had the idea of creating a vehicle that could accommodate four passengers and their luggage in minimal space and, of course, with the lowest possible fuel consumption. In 1959, the original Mini was born and became the symbol of a whole generation. Today, Mini still follows Issigonis’ template : maximum passenger space in a small-ish car and real driving pleasure. 63 years later, the MINI Recharged project is an opportunity to reboot the classic Mini in a sustainable way.

MINI elctrique

An old idea that has been around for a long time…

As early as 1981, a small British company named RMB introduced the Minilectro, an electrified Mini, on the market. Of course, just a tiny number of these were built : technology was not yet as advanced as it is today and there was no  need for it back then. Seven years ago, IAN Motion (a French start up), launched an electrified classic Mini. Behind it were Messrs Rolland and Laurent, two former Renault employees (one of them once worked on electric vehicle projects, the other was a member of the F1 team). At the time, everyone thought they were crazy. However, their project caught on and complete kits are available.

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Their electric Mini range is about 150 km and it is powered by a 47 HP engine ( same power as the original Mini). The battery is a LiFePo4 (Lithium, Iron, Phosphate) that is said to be much cleaner than Li-Ion ones but it is unfortunately less efficient than those batteries made of rarer raw materials. IAN ensured weight distribution is spot on to accentuate the kart-like feeling for the driver. Needless to say,  such a conversion doesn’t come cheap… The French company charges a hefty € 29,950 (incl. VAT) to convert a classic Mini into an electric one. At the time of writing, we don’t know the Mini Recharge prices.

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The Classic Mini is still fashionable…

MINI’s classic Minis conversions into electric cars ensure the original’s ubiquitous character and shape is combined with the latest technology. The concept was born even before the British manufacturer offered the Mini Cooper SE electric car. A classic electrified Mini was on show at the 2018 New York Auto Show and it was so positively welcomed that soon the brand assembled an engineering team at the Mini factory in Oxford. The aim was to create a side business turning classic Minis into electric cars. Ensuring the original old-school feelings and driving experience were kept with an electric motor was obviously no easy task.

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The team also made sure that the conversion is fully reversible should  the customer want to retrofit the original internal combustion engine. Moreover, the original engines are identified and stored by the factory, just in case. The MINI Recharged project is a good way of extending a car’s useful life while retaining its much-loved original character. It is powered by a modern electric motor that generates up to 90 kW power and propels the electrified Mini from 0 to 100 km/h in around 9 seconds. Energy is supplied by a high-voltage battery that can be charged to the tune of 6.6 kW.

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Range limited by space

In everyday traffic, the range should be about 160 kilometres. This is obviously not a lot, but it’s important to remember that a battery is heavy and takes up space… it’s impossible to fit a BMW iX3 battery in a classic Mini, for example. Every MINI Recharged classic Mini retains the characteristic central instrument cluster… but now it shows the engaged gear, range available and speed, of course. The MINI Recharged’s instant acceleration and driving experience should delight Classic Mini fans.

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More importantly, it is allowed to enter low-emission zones where combustion engine cars can’t go anymore. For example, the classic electric Mini can be driven down Oxford Street or Piccadilly Circus, in London,  and become part of the urban landscape again, without the driver having to pay pollution tax beforehand. What’s more, the classic electric conversion does not need to be re-registered. MINI Recharged fits in perfectly with the brand’s future strategy, which also includes the circular economy. No new vehicles are produced, only existing cars are being used.

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What is the situation in Belgium regarding electric conversions?

In our country, it is currently impossible to modify the fuel used by a vehicle… a car that was approved with a petrol or diesel engine cannot be retrofitted with an electric motor! While many countries allow and encourage this type of conversion, Belgium doesn’t want to know anything, using “technical” reasons to outlaw it. It is clear that what is allowed elsewhere is obviously dangerous and cannot be done here! It is high time that the authorities and vehicle approval services open their eyes widely, listen to the citizens and ensure the preservation of the environment. (Paul-Edouard Urbain)

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