A CAR factory at the heart of Cowley's identity has ushered in a 'new era' as the Mini Electric hits the market.

The BMW Mini plant is ready to deliver the all-electric vehicle to drivers and showrooms next week, in a move that will help to future-proof Oxford production as the industry changes.

Press including the Oxford Mail were treated to a tour of the factory yesterday and allowed to test-drive the new vehicles.

David George, director of Mini in the UK, said it marked the 'start of a new era' for the plant and the brand.

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He said: "If there was ever a car that was meant to be electric, the Mini is it.

"Oxford is the home of the Mini, so this is a really significant moment for us.

"The car looks, feels and drives like a Mini and we are hugely proud."

This time last year the future of the plant looked uncertain, with BMW bosses warning that a no-deal Brexit could force 'some or all' production to Holland.

The factory floor was bustling with activity yesterday, however, with electric models zooming overhead to various stops on the production line.

The Mini Electric currently makes up 10 per cent of the plant's weekly output, with around 106 fully electric cars built every day.

This is expected to increase to 120 per day.

About 5,000 cars are produced at the factory each week including three and five-door models, the Mini Clubman and now the Mini Electric.

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Addressing journalists yesterday Graham Bigg, a spokesman for Mini, said: "This is arguably the biggest moment in Mini's life since 2001 [when BMW took over].

"The classic Mini was born out of changing circumstances and there are many parallels with the electric.

"We really think this car could help to tip the market into acceptance of electric cars."

The Mini Electric was first unveiled at the plant last year, to celebrate 60 years since the first Mini rolled off the production line.

It will be available to customers from next week, with tens of thousands of people having already pre-ordered.

The UK government wants to ban the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035, and launched public consultation on the plan last week.

Many car manufacturers are introducing electric models amid pressure to use greener energy.

Steve Wrelton, a spokesman for the Oxford plant, said: "Mini was founded in the aftermath of the Suez fuel crisis, which forced ingenuity in motoring manufacturing.

"They came up with a design for a small car that was fuel-efficient and maximised the use of space.

"I like the idea that Mini has come full circle again."

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He said the team at Plant Oxford felt a 'sense of pride', adding: "We've built a car that will appeal to as wide a demographic of people as the classic Mini in 1959.

"The Mini plant in Oxford is an important part of the wider BMW production network and of course we were over the moon to have had the opportunity to build this car."

John Strange has worked at the plant for 48 years, having returned post-retirement to lead visitor tours around the factory.

He recalled first visiting as a young boy on a school trip, and later started work on the factory floor, before working his way up to become a production manager.

Mr Strange, who lives in Shillingford near Wallingford, said of the Mini Electric: "It's a boost for the plant - a massive step forward.

"Mini has always been a massive part of Cowley and Oxford, and people are proud to work here.

"There are a lot of family connections - one of the managers in the assembly hall is third generation [Mini Oxford worker]."

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When Mr Strange joined the factory - then Morris Motors - about 28,000 people worked there.

Now, 4,400 employees work there alongside 1,400 robots.

John Cowan, who is assembly integration project leader for the Mini Electric, said some machinery was adapted so the vehicle can be built on the same production line as a conventional Mini.

It means the plant can adapt more easily to demand.

Speaking on the factory floor yesterday, Mr Cowan added: "We just don't know where the tipping point is - when does the customer stop wanting to buy a petrol car or diesel car?

"We need to be ready for anything and that's what we are.

"We are flexible and ready to delivery what the customer needs."