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Since acquiring the Mini trademark over a decade ago, BMW has not shied away from playing up the hot-hatch image of the brand — and that goes for the cars’ exhaust soundtracks. But BMW may soon have another, much quieter role for its small British division in mind as the German parent company maneuvers toward an electric future.

Could BMW make Mini into an all-electric brand in the near future, adding to its i Division while keeping its hot-hatch identity? It’s possible: BMW board member and Mini boss Peter Schwarzenbauer told Reuters this week that Mini could become an EV-only brand aimed at urban buyers. The company is proceeding with plans to roll out its first electric model, shown in concept form at the Frankfurt motor show earlier this year, and is currently looking for partnerships with other automakers to bring down the costs as well as solve the engineering challenges of building small electric cars.

According to Schwarzenbauer, building relatively small electric cars is difficult not only from the standpoint of costs but also due to the engineering challenges of fitting small cars with batteries that give them a sufficient range. Unlike a number of other cars on the market, the Mini lineup has to stay within a confined size range, so battery space and technology is at a premium when it comes to development.

2017 Mini Electric Frankfurt concept

Still, there is a precedent for taking a small sub-brand electric; Mercedes-Benz did this with the Smart brand in the U.S. and now offers only electric versions of the subcompact city car. Smart faces a set of even greater challenges as an electric brand, it could be said, as battery space in the current models is quite finite.

Schwarzenbauer indicated to Reuters that BMW is committed to moving the brand “in the direction of the electric urban mobility company,” rather than seeking to field larger models due to the current popularity of crossovers and SUVs.

The first Mini Electric is due on the market in 2019 and will join the Mini Countryman plug-in hybrid that is already on sale. Mini has not yet disclosed the expected range and power specs of the first fully electric model, though industry analysts are expecting a range of over 200 miles for the Mini Electric to be competitive. It helps that BMW has been building battery experience since the debut of the first electric Mini, which was released in limited numbers several years ago.

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