BMW makes lavish claims for its forthcoming 8-Series, saying it will herald an upward shift in product strategy. But will it be enough?
Last week, BMW displayed a concept previewing a forthcoming 8-Series model line which went on display at the sumptuous annual Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este at Italy’s Lake Como. BMW’s Ian Robertson used the occasion to outline the company’s ambitions, telling Autocar magazine, “We want to bring more cars into the upper luxury segment. We are working on other products as we feel there is a lot of opportunity there. The new 8 series is part of this. In the next couple of years we will see the most comprehensive change in the history of BMW.”
The production variant, due to be officially announced late next year, will be the first to use the 8-Series moniker since the demise of the Klaus Kapitza-designed E31 model in 1999; a car that failed to capture the hearts of the Vierzylinder faithful, seen as bloated and lacking the visual drama its specification and positioning promised. The forthcoming G17 replaces the outgoing (and disappointing) F12 6-Series, production of which is said to have already ceased in the wake of tumbling sales.
BMW management are said for some time to have been looking with envious eyes as Mercedes-Benz has been gobbling an ever-increasing chunk of the luxury car market. With the Mercedes S-Class (in its multiplicity of variants) covering a vast swathe of the luxury market, BMW’s current top-line entrants lack the range, visual impact and (arguably) snob value, and unlike their Swabian rivals, BMW’s recent forays downmarket have been counterbalanced at the top end – a matter they appear keen to belatedly address now.
Mind you, what BMW has, and what Mercedes lacks is a credible super-luxury brand. But with Rolls Royce moving into evermore rarefied realms – (the latest Sweptail concept honouring the coachbuilt streamliners of the 1930’s) – a growing chasm is opening up which the current 7-Series is ill-equipped to bridge.
The 8-Series concept, to these eyes a somewhat lazy cocktail of exaggerated BMW cues, Pininfarina’s 2013 Gran Lusso, a pinch of Lexus and a generous helping of Aston Martin, appears to have left a significant proportion of the enthusiast community stirred and shaken, albeit not quite in the manner BMW might have intended. BMW’s design chief Adrian van Hooydonk predictably talked up its significance, calling it “a very big step in BMW design… the start of a new-form of language…” Now Adrian, lets try to be realistic, shall we?
Not that BMW doesn’t urgently need a new form language, the latest G30 5-Series being one of the least visually accomplished new BMWs in decades; a design that cannot even be dignified by the term ‘evolutionary’. Newly appointed styling director, Josef Kaban has his work cut out – too late to materially affect the 8-Series, but his remit must involve repositioning BMW style, not only to punch through a putative glass ceiling but also to take the fight directly to Dr. Zee and his blessedly successful Sindelfingen sidekick.
It’s clear BMW needs to up its game, and this, the first significant attempt upmarket since the days of von Kuenheim and Reitzle must reassure a serially dismayed brand faithful, horrified by product decisions that have eroded a very carefully nurtured driver-focused image. Against such a torrid background, a shift upmarket could now be seen as lacking much by way of credibility.
Another credibility gap involves BMW’s poor track record when it comes to the transition from concept to reality. Therefore it is probably safe to assume the production 8-Series will not present a sufficiently refreshing face to the world, even if it will hopefully offer a slightly less predatory one. But a question remains. What if anything can BMW do to elicit the desire of both existing Mercedes owners and an upwardly mobile BMW faithful, jaded from a flaccid succession of underwhelming Munich offerings. One thing is clear. Whatever former Skoda-man Kaban has up his sleeve, it had better be superb.