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.
Sporting Luxury: Four-Door, Four Seat Coupe Blends Sport and Luxury, Emphasis on Sport
As Porsche prepares the Panamera and Aston Martin the Rapide and as Mercedes-Benz saw some success early with the CLS four-door coupe, BMW is developing their own take on this recent sporty, luxurious four-door coupe formula. In an indication of automaker’s growing interest in China, as well as the penchant of China’s wealthiest population for ultra-luxury vehicles and BMW, BMW’s first worldwide concept car introduction in China was of the CS concept at the April 2007 Shanghai auto show. (CS for Coupe Sedan.)
The BMW Concept CS evolves BMW’s sporty flame surfacing to a much more mature and sophisticated look. The car looks taut and serious from the sides. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific see a fundamental problem with the approach being taken by the European carmakers. They are abandoning function for form. Clearly, the CLS, Panamera, Rapide and CS are beautiful cars, but as Mercedes has found with the CLS, they are difficult for a driver to live with. The rear seat in these cars is practically useless. And the rear doors in the 4-door bodystyle are only good for tossing a briefcase in. Our prediction: the buff books will love these cars, they will sell well at first to the Rodeo Drive crowd, but in the long run, they will act like sporty cars – popular for 12 to 18 months before fading out.
BMW’s upcoming four-door, four-seat coupe will go up against the Porsche and the Aston, as well as bridge a bit of the gap between 7-Series and Rolls-Royce. We wouldn’t be surprised to see it called 8-Series when it arrives, though this is not confirmed. The Concept CS is wider than the current 7-Series, though with a similar wheelbase and not quite as much overall length, and larger than the E-Class-based Mercedes CLS. The production car will look to 7-Series components for a platform, but indications are that BMW is planning this car as a low-volume proposition.
More will come as we learn it, but for now we’re happy to bring you the first official photos. The CS evolves the famously controversial BMW flame surfacing, resulting a crisp and dynamic look from the side and rear. The vehicle’s face, however, is simply awful. The kidney grille is much too large, and it looks more or less as though BMW is trying to create a wide-mouth, deep grille look similar to the one Audi is cultivating. The headlights sport a new technology that gives them a hooded look, and we can’t imagine why you’d want your sports tourer to look sleepy. BMW says the huge kidney grille is functional and would serve as the primary air supply to the engine, it just doesn’t work with the traditional BMW kidney grille. (BMW declined to indicate which engine was under this terrifically long hood, only saying that the need for such a large grille was obvious because “a power unit befitting the dynamic character of such a sports saloon most probably requires an ample flow of cooling air.” The long nose and short rear overhangs work well, and the interior does look fabulous.
During the last week of March 2007, 1,254 VehicleVoice panelists responded to an Internet survey concerning their opinion of major automakers in the USA. VehicleVoice asked these questions because the opinion of buyers and their attitudes towards various aspects of a manufacturer’s image are critically important. Managing image and opinion plus understanding what is driving that opinion can influence whether a person will positively consider or reject a brand next time they are in the market.
The key question in the VehicleVoice survey was whether the respondent’s opinion of a manufacturer had changed since this time last year. If their opinion had changed, the panel member was given the chance to explain why their opinion had changed. We received over 5,000 comments concerning these manufacturers. Some were as short one word. Some were as long as a page of 10-point type. Folks really had a lot to say and their comments were fascinating.
Discussion for each of the brands is below the fold.
Now that BMW has rolled out all four major variants of the 3-Series (sedan, wagon, coupe, and convertible), it is time to move on to the really fun stuff. And the Geneva show timing is no accident, with Audi unveiling their A4-based A5 and S5 coupe at the same show.
Though this concept is close to what the real M3 will look like, hard information is still a little thin on the ground. European deliveries of the M3 are expected in fall 2007, and it’s possible that U.S. buyers wait as long as spring 2008. BMW confirmed that their “race-bred and road ready” sporting coupe will take a high-revving V8, but declined to specify which. Our guess? The V8 derived from the M5’s V10, with at least as much power as the Audi RS4 (420HP).
The M3 Concept is both stunning and discreet. The M3 Concept carries a strong, aggressive face. Coming up into anyone’s rear-view mirror with this nose certainly promises that you mean business. The three extra-large air intakes aren’t just for show, though; they are necessary for cooling the V8. The hood, with a bulging powerdome, that rises above the front fascia is made of aluminum for lower-weight.
The side view is dominated by muscular front and rear wheel arches surrounding nineteen-inch wheels, light alloy of course. Were you to be able to get up close, you’d see the high-performance M brakes between the spokes. A subtle boot spoiler graces the decklid instead of a tall, in-your-face piece of composite material, but the M double exhaust pipes promise more is under this body.
Along with the hood, BMW massaged most other body panels to create the M3 concept. The M3 Concept sports a carbon-fibre reinforced plastic roof, like the E46 M3 CSL and the M6 coupe. Only the doors, decklid, headlights, and taillights were unchanged compared with the new 3-Series coupe. The body-color mirrors are meant to be reminiscent of an aircraft wing, with a black double foot. Along with looking great, BMW says they were developed in the wind tunnel to enhance stability at high speeds.