X6 Blisters the Eyes
Divided Opinions Between Old and Young?
It turns out that others at the North American International Auto Show were agog at the BMW X6. My colleague Jim Hossack related a conversation with senior BMW of North America planner Rich Brekus and it sounded much like my own with him. What is it? “Well, it’ a category defining new idea,” said Brekus. Who will buy it? “People who want something really different with outstanding performance.” I’ll give ‘em credit, I guarantee the X6 will be wonderful to drive, once you can get into it, but I think living with it will be another matter. Even if you like the styling, ingress/egress is very compromised. Visibility is poor. Cargo room above the beltline is non-existent (BMW’s response is that folks rarely stack anything above the beltline – true enough).
As Hossack was commenting about the X6 in the AutoPacific staff meeting the Monday following the show, Ed Kim, AutoPacific’s new Director of Industry Analysis joined in saying that he loved the X6. Being younger than me and ‘Sack, and smaller, Ed had a very different take on the X6. Much more positive. Well, he’s entitled to his opinion.
In any event, the BMW X6 promises to be among the most controversial new vehicles introduced this year. NEW — Watch our video montage here.
What are the Germans Smoking?
You wonder what the Germans are smoking, however. Americans must seem very, very conservative to folks who are launching products like the Mercedes CLS (beautiful car you can’t live with – almost, if not quite, a failure in the USA), the Mercedes R-Class (Grand Sport Tourer not setting the world on fire), the BMW X6, the rumored Audi A7 (a CLS from Audi), etc. We applaud Audi, BMW and Mercedes pushing the envelope, but they do it at the potential risk to their vaunted reputations for building some of the world’s best vehicles.
AutoExtremist Weighs In
Peter DeLorenzo of the AutoExtremist website
, wrote this blurb about the X6… we can’t help but agree with most of it.
Speaking of arrogant Germans in the car business (btw, is there a more accurate and time-honored descriptor than that? Uh, no – ed.), you gotta hand it to BMW. I swear these guys don’t understand the word “restraint” in the English language. These guys are inventing niches within niches, and in their obsessive quest to become all things to all people, I believe they get lost in their own talking-to-themselves brilliance to the point that they can’t even see the Black Forest for the trees. Add to that their annoyingly unhealthy habit of believing half the shit that Chief Designer Chris Bangle shoves their way, which just compounds matters, and you have a recipe for a truly ugly little bundt cake. Once again, some of my esteemed colleagues (cough, hack) in the media just couldn’t wait to gush over Bangle’s latest atrocity, the BMW X6, but believe me, it will not “redefine the category” or “set the standard for crossovers for years to come” or any other such nonsense. On the contrary, as a matter of fact. The X6 is nothing more than a German-accented Pontiac Aztek, a vehicle for Bangle’s self- aggrandizement, a rolling monument to one man’s mediocrity and an unmitigated P.O.S. that is “beyond category” tedious. Trust me on this one, the only inspiration other designers will take away from the X6 is the inspiration to turn their heads in horror and then walk – make that run – away. If it weren’t for the perfect albeit overpriced 1 series, I’d be worried that BMW has finally gone off the deep end.
According to AutoPacific’s annual survey of new car and light truck acquirers, the BMW 3-Series, Acura MDX, Lexus RX, Honda Accord, and Infiniti QX56 attract the most tech savvy buyers. Tech savvy consumers made up approximately 5% of the new car buying population in 2007, up from just 2% in 2006. As Gen Y matures and enters the new vehicle market in greater numbers, AutoPacific expects these numbers to continue their growth. Tech savvy car buyers were defined utilizing a collection of data filters from AutoPacific’s Research Suite® database.
BMW Joins the Effort to Spread the Diesel Gospel
If there’s one company out there whose powertrain reputation is beyond reproach, it’s easily BMW. Some underwhelming 4-cylinders from the 80s and 90s aside, it’s hard to point out any BMW motors that weren’t powerful, engaging, soulful, and indestructible. Except for the indestructible part, those descriptors certainly don’t describe diesel, at least in the minds of North American drivers.
In case you hadn’t heard, the Europeans are firing their first volleys in their attempted diesel revolution in the US. They’ve actually tried for years to sell Americans on diesels, touting their economy and longevity as advantages. But thanks to some really notably awful diesels from the 70s and 80s (and consumers’ long memories), the only takers have been automotive eccentrics. Today though, in the days of rising fuel prices and international instability, there is a significant increase in interest in fuel-saving technologies.
You can’t blame the Europeans for using diesel to spearhead their efficiency strategies. After all, Europe has already embraced diesel as a mainstream fuel (67% of BMWs sold in Western Europe are diesels!), and as such they have made tremendous advances in diesel power, refinement, and cleanliness. And, if anyone can help erase that diesel stigma in America, it’s BMW.
Impressive Specs and Power
BMW’s Advanced Diesel strategy in the US starts with their internationally lauded 3.0L inline-6 diesel with twin turbos, pumping out 268 horsepower and a truly stump-pulling 425 lb-ft of torque. This is while delivering 25% better fuel economy than a comparable gasoline engine. The engine is 50-state legal, thanks to an SCR catalyst and AdBlue urea injection.
To start, this fire-breathing yet eco-friendly diesel will be available in the 3-Series and X5. You can expect to see other diesel variants in the coming years.
High Fuel Economy…But Likely High Cost
Despite these impressive specs, diesel’s got a real uphill battle to contend with. Even without considering diesel’s image in the US, there’s the cost – both in terms of hardware and the fuel itself. In Southern California, diesel’s running about 20¢ higher than gasoline, and these new diesel engines themselves are inherently very costly due to their beefy innards and all that expensive exhaust aftertreatment. BMW (and other diesel hopefuls) certainly won’t be able to play the “save money” card with their diesels; they’ll have to find some other unique way to position these powertrains.
There is a real and growing trend among leading edge affluent consumers to equate green with chic. BMW will need to work hard to market diesel’s benefits to these leading edge consumers – and convince them to pay more for the privilege of being green. If they can pull this off with these opinion-leading consumers, diesel just might have long-term hope in North America.
Continuing its tongue-in-cheek marketing party MINI USA unveiled the 2008 MINI Clubman at the Los Angeles Auto Show. In true self-deprecating MINI style, the diminutive wagon backed
onto the stage, showing off its rear barn doors to the enthusiastic press. Vice President of MINI James O’Donnell led the tour of MINI’s latest model. (Look for VehicleVoice’s video podcast of our personal interview with James McDowell.)
Sun and Sky for 1-Series, Too
Back in July, we brought you the first official photos and details on BMW’s new baby, the 1-Series. And as if you weren’t looking forward to it enough already, a convertible version has been confirmed. The convertible will arrive in spring 2008 in 128i form first, with the 230HP 3.0L I6. The convertible will also be available with the 300HP version of that I6, just not until later in 2008. Though these photos are of a 125i Euro-spec version, the convertible looks promising.
Instead of a retractable hard top, the less expensive and smaller 1-Series gets a softtop, which BMW says drops in a mere 22 seconds. Even better, the 1-Series will be available with BMW’s convertible-specific climate control system (which factors exterior temperature and sunlight in deciding fan speed) and the Sun Reflective Technology that helps keeps seating cooler. (We had the chance to experience a 3-Series convertible with the feature followed by a week in the Z4 without the feature; the difference was impressive.) iDrive and navigation will be available on the 1-Series, but not a power wind deflector.
All in all, 2008 is shaping up to be a good year to buy a BMW. For me, the hot spots are the M3 sedan and 135i coupe; actually, that coupe is probably the vehicle I’m looking forward to most next year. It’s small and light, should be nimble and relatively fuel efficient. I like small cars, and this one on paper seems perfectly sized for our two-person household. But the M3 sedan has its own draw. I can go for the practicality of the four-door over the two-door in the larger M3 package, and the extra 120HP over the 135i should deliver a rush all its own.
2002 Reincarnated, M3 Brings Back a Four-Door
September and October brought plenty of BMW news, all leading up to a hot spring/summer 2008 for BMW dealers. The X6 Concept and X6 ActiveHybrid Concepts shown at the 2007 Frankfurt auto show, previewing a vehicle due by the end of next year, and the show was the backdrop for the formal introduction of both the M3 coupe and the new 1-Series coupe. Also in Frankfurt, a 1-Series convertible was confirmed, with initial photos released shortly afterward. If that wasn’t enough, the M3 sedan returns with a worldwide introduction at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show. Just to keep you interested, here are the first photos of the M3 sedan. See a following story for photos of the new 1-Series convertible.
At the 2007 Frankfurt Auto Show, BMW Introduced The “First” Sports Activity Coupe
Technically, BMW is right. This is the world’s first Sports Activity Coupe. But that seems a matter of degrees, as Infiniti’s FX is really the world’s first SUV Coupe (and that was introduced back in 2003). The difference between an SAV and an SUV is in the mind of BMW, not the mind of the consumer.
Claims to world’s first aside, two X6 Concepts, one with an undefined but implied large conventional powerplant and another with BMW’s also largely undefined two- mode hybrid powertrain, were shown at the 2007 Frankfurt show in September. The X6 Concept and X6 Concept ActiveHybrid
preview a vehicle we’ll see on the roads in 2008, built alongside the X5 at the company’s Spartanburg plant. Both gathered strong interest at the show, though the real test will be seeing the X6 on the autobahn, freeways, and suburban and city roads next to everything from the most sedate family sedan to the largest SUV to the smallest sports car. Will its striking roofline be enough to draw attention and appreciative looks or just look out of place? Though given graceful and dynamic surfacing, below the beltline the X6 looks every bit the SUV it is.
The X6 and X6 ActiveHybrid Concepts show what to expect from the exterior, though the interior and powertrain and mechanicals details are yet under wraps. We expect conventional X6 powerplants to be pulled from the X5, and the ActiveHybrid Concept confirms BMW’s intent to offer the jointly developed two-mode hybrid system (after the fragmenting of DaimlerChrysler, this is a four-way venture between GM, Daimler, The Chrysler Group, and BMW). BMW will use their own engines with the two-mode hybrid system, as do the other partners, and may call the system ActiveHybrid
In Europe, BMW dealers have offered a 1-Series variant since fall 2004. But BMW of North America took a pass on the hatchback, which first also offered only four-cylinder power. BMW of North America was wise to wait for the four-seat coupe given American tastes.
The wait is almost over. The new coupe is due for a formal reveal at the 2007 Frankfurt auto show
, but photos of the 135i and initial details have been released. U.S. sales are set for spring 2008.
There have been rumors circulating recently about BMW buying Volvo Cars from Ford. Ford Motor Company stated on May 29, 2007 it is not in discussions with BMW or any other company regarding the sale of Volvo Cars.
But sometimes where there is smoke, there is fire. This rumor has been circulating for a few weeks now. The rumor goes like this… BMW has been conducting due diligence about the possibility of acquiring another brand. Volvo Cars and Alfa Romeo have both been included in the rumor, but Volvo appears to be the strongest candidate.
Why Would BMW Need a Second Car Company?
From 1994 through 2000 BMW owned Rover – including Rover, MG, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Mini, Land Rover and the defunct names Austin, Morris, Riley, Triumph, Wolesley. Whoa, what a lineup!? BMW practically owned the British motor industry with the exception of Jaguar. Termed “The English Patient”, Rover and BMW never gelled. In 2000, BMW sold Rover Cars (MG Rover) to Phoenix Holding Group for £10. They sold Land Rover to Ford for a hefty chunk of change. They got snookered out of the Bentley name and somehow Volkswagen ended up with it. They kept Mini and have made it a great success. They kept Rolls Royce and are presently building modest numbers in Goodwood in sourthern England.
But, BMW needs additional volumes to help its economies of scale. A second company would help BMW in negotiations with components suppliers. Volvo has the heft to help handsomely.
BMW Fiercely Proud of its Independence
BMW is advertising the advantages of its independence. They look down their nose at Lexus – part of Toyota, Infiniti – part of Nissan, Acura – part of Honda, Audi – part of Volkswagen, Mercedes – part of DaimlerChrysler. So, the idea of BMW acquiring some other premium brand has to be considered from the position of strength.
European media reports have speculated that BMW wants to expand its product portfolio, and would like to add a premium brand with front-wheel-drive models to help spread out development costs for its Mini range. (BMW has been spreading some costs already co-developing the new Mini engine with Peugeot).
Volvo could be a good candidate to fill that objective. One of the reasons Ford acquired Volvo was because of its excellent front-wheel-drive large car platform that underpins the S80, XC90, S60, V70, XC70. Ford uses this platform for its Taurus (Five Hundred), Sable (Montego) and Taurus X (Freestyle) vehicle lines. The lower Volvo models have platforms shared between Ford, Mazda and Volvo. How a BMW acquisition of Volvo could untie these relationships must be a central part of any acquisition strategy. (Remember, BMW V8s powered the Range Rover until the 2006 model year – a hang over from BMW’s ownership).
Volvo Part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group
Ford acquired Volvo in 1999 for $6.5 billion and made it a cornerstone of its Premier Automotive Group which also includes Jaguar and Land Rover (purchased for $2.7 billion in 2000). Ford has sold the fourth PAG brand – Aston Martin – to investors for slightly less than $1 billion. PAG lost $327 million in 2006.
Reports say that Merrill Lynch estimates Ford could raise over $9 billion by selling the remaining PAG brands.
Nobody’s admitting anything yet, but lets see if the denials hold up over time.