Electric Mini models will be built at a new plant in China through a joint venture between the BMW Group and Great Wall Motor – but BMW has pledged Oxford will remain “the heart and home” of the brand’s production operation.

The German company and Chinese firm Great Wall have launched a new joint venture, Spotlight Automotive, to build and run the £555 million factory in Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu province. Due to open in 2022, it will employ 3000 staff and have a capacity of up to 160,000 vehicles per year.

BMW says it will be used for “production of future electric Mini vehicles”, along with several Great Wall models, but hasn’t offered specifics of the models that will be built there. The Mini Electric, due on sale early next year, will be built at Plant Oxford, and BMW said that site “will remain the heart and home of Mini manufacturing, while the Spotlight Automotive joint venture will provide additional capacity and flexibility.”

While it’s likely that the new plant will focus primarily on producing Mini models for the Chinese market, likely including the Electric, it’s also set to build some that will be sold worldwide.

Nicholas Peter, BMW’s finance boss, said: “This joint venture will enable us to produce a larger number of Mini-brand fully electric vehicles at attractive conditions for the world market. This is also an important strategic step for the Mini brand. The joint venture with Great Wall underlines the enormous importance of the Chinese market for us.”

The BMW Group is committed to its existing sales structure in China and will continue its BMW Brilliance joint venture. It added the new joint venture could “accelerate development of the Mini brand significantly.”