CarBuyer.com.sg speaks to the boss of Mini Asia about the brand’s electric future
Text: Leow Ju-Len
For someone named Kidd, the boss of Mini Asia is a pretty straight-talker. Although based here, Mr Yam reliably made weekly blasts home to Kuala Lumpur on Friday nights for the weekend, as much for the pleasure of the drive as for the food awaiting him there, until border closures put a stop to his long-distance commuting. We caught up with him at the Cooper SE’s launch.
CarBuyer: Let’s start with an easy one. Who is this car for?
Kidd Yam: Basically, when we consider a Mini electric for a market like Singapore, the first thing we have in mind is, it has to be something that current Mini owners or Mini fans can relate to. So we always still need it to be a Mini first, electric car second. It has to drive like a Mini, look like a Mini, and Mini owners will feel comfortable when they sit in it. Who is it for? Our first group of customers want something new in the market but at the end of the day still want to be seen in and want a Mini.
CB: Are you not targeting people who are maybe a bit green-minded?
KY: We would like to believe so, but we have to be realistic. Mini in Singapore is not cheap, and those who really want a real sustainable mode of transport will not buy a car, they will go for public transport. I mean there are so many options in Singapore, so we have to be realistic: a small group of customers who currently drive a Mini or BMW or another car, that say, “Okay, maybe it’s time to switch (to electric) now.” We give them an option.
CB: The range of the car is among the lowest in the market. Is it enough?
KY: If you look at the Mini electric, you can see that it’s based on the current F56. In a way, we took a combustion engined car and made it an electric vehicle. Weight is one of the crucial factors, and you have to make sure that the car drives like a Mini. You also have to maintain the space, so you still can seat four people in the car and we did not sacrifice boot space. With all that in mind, the battery size needed to be kept at a balance. And if we look at the normal driving behaviour of Mini owners, not only in Singapore but across the region mostly are urban, city drivers, and usually Mini is their second or third car. Myself in Singapore, for the past six months, I only did 100km maximum a week, so if you ask me the range of 270 kilometres according to the NEDC rating for the Cooper SE, for me, it’s sufficient for city driving behaviour. But I used to drive back to Kuala Lumpur, 380 kilometres door-to-door, then obviously a Cooper SE wouldn’t be suitable. It really depends on the customer’s driving pattern.
CB: Even if I feel good about electric cars, the technology is still quite young. It’s improving very fast. If you buy now, it’s like buying a 4G phone when you know the 5G phones are coming. So why would you do it?
KY: A smartphone with a car, I think is not the right comparison. The mobile phone is a lower cost item, and the technology really changes very fast, every three months, six months. But a car takes about four to five years to develop. Even though the technology moves very fast, there are a lot of factors that govern how fast we can implement this technology. So to be fair, even if you buy a Mini Cooper SE now, it will take maybe another four or five years for the next leap in general, because of the whole development cycle.
CB: Here’s a curveball. Why didn’t you launch the plug-in Countryman?
KY: Back then, when the Mini Cooper SE Countryman was available, the price was pretty close to a John Cooper Works. We did some surveys with some of the owners, and they said, either you bring in a full EV, or we’ll stick to our JCW. But I personally believe the plug-in hybrid is the best of both worlds. You can do long distances, but you can also drive an EV. The EV range is, I think, about 52km for the Countryman. We do not see a huge volume for plug-in hybrids in Singapore, but never say no. You never know.