Auto-da-fé

BMW have enjoyed a decade of success selling an ever-expanding range of four wheel drive hatchbacks. Now they are making their largest one yet. What madness is this?

So much awful in one photo. Image: bmwblog

“I think if you try and make something impressive, rather than good, you’re doomed.” Spen King, engineer and creator of the Range Rover.

On paper at least, BMW is the smallest and theoretically most vulnerable of the German premium big three. Daimler is bigger and its business more diverse. Audi is insulated to a large extent by nestling within the VW mothership. This however ignores BMW’s deftness as a business, to say nothing of its profitability and net worth, which may well outstrip its rivals.

Still largely controlled by the same Quandt family who have adroitly steered its fortunes for over half a century, the Bayerische Motoren Werke so far, has managed to avoid the mis-steps and reputational disasters that have befallen its Wolfsburg and Stuttgart-Untertürkheim rivals. But the times are not what they were.

Harald Krüger, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG is the individual tasked with steering the carmaker through perhaps the most challenging period in its and the wider industry’s history. Announcing the company’s “NUMBER ONE > NEXT” corporate strategy from the security of a lectern at the Annual Accounts Press Conference in Munich recently, he told delegates; “We will lead the BMW Group into a new era, one in which we will transform and shape both individual mobility and the entire sector in a permanent way.” Which is a nice line in corporate wishful thinking.

Amongst the bracing challenges facing BMW is how to square the coming autonomous non-ownership revolution with the existing business of selling upmarket cars to the well-heeled. One strand of thought is that BMW will position its i sub-brand within this coming shift towards electrified, autonomous, anonymous; a service that delivers transport solutions on demand, allowing the core Bayerische Motoren Werke brand to push further upmarket, with a renewed emphasis on the high-end super luxury market where bitter rivals Mercedes-Benz have been raking in the cash so successfully of late.

Oh, the vulgarity! Image: carbuzz

Having lead the premium segment for ten consecutive years, Mercedes have recently taken the Petuelring’s lunch and have steadfastly refused to give it back. The Swabians, through a twin-pronged approach of aggressive marketing at the low-to medium end and a range of highly styled and lavishly appointed offerings at the top end, have gained for themselves an enviable position as the star on the top of the premium car fairy-tree.

To paraphrase former US President, George H. Bush, this aggression will not stand; Krüger informing delegates that “the BMW brand is now poised to strengthen its position on a sustainable basis at the top end of its product portfolio, where rates of return are at their highest. We will be broadening our model range with the BMW X7. We are also taking an in-depth look at the additional potential of this highly attractive segment.”

Now, a cynic might suggest that having seen how much money Daimler-Benz are making selling over-sized, over-aggressive vulgarities to the over-privileged and self-entitled, Mr. Krüger has taken the business-logical decision to chase the same customers by offering some tawdry, oversized trinkets of his own. Allow your famished eyes to dwell for a moment (but a moment only) upon the Concept X7 iPerformance, destined for the upcoming Frankfurt motor show – a moderately bejazzled version of the forthcoming SUV range-topper. Is that enough vinegar on your chips, madam?

Sadly, each flung boulder missed its mark. Image: autoblog

Ian Robertson, BMW sales and marketing director was deemed responsible for the following utterance. “Since BMW founded the Sports Activity Vehicle segment with the first X5 in 1999, every subsequent X vehicle has broken new ground.” Which is, I’m sure you’ll agree, a statement to ruminate upon on quite a number of levels. From the foregoing however I do wonder if we can assume that ferrying ones over-insulated offspring to the school gates in one of these leviathans is now viewed by BMW’s marketers as a ‘sports activity’? I merely request clarification.

I’d rather not be snide. It’s obvious that BMW (like everyone else) are a business first and a car maker second. It’s also bitingly clear that the challenges facing car makers as they attempt to navigate an environment where emissions-driven legislative change on one hand and an avaricious tech-sector on the other stand a better than even chance of squeezing them to the point of extinction. However, one has to seriously question whether this insane rush to ever-larger, more aggressive looking behemoths is anything resembling an answer? Because to these eyes at least, it looks a good deal more like a one way ticket to Palookaville.

In space, no one can hear you scream. Image: autoblog

The decisions BMW management are making now will not only determine the business’ long-term viability but how we continue to perceive the marque both in brand and product terms. They may even determine whether BMW will survive the oncoming changes to the auto business model in any recognisable form at all.

But if BMW and its ‘prestige’ big name rivals genuinely believe a sustainable path forward for the industry is in building bloated leviathans for fevered egos, they are in effect becoming the agents of their own demise.

Spen King quote: AROnline.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

11 thoughts on “Auto-da-fé”

  1. Excellent piece – worthy of a serious broadsheet. This concept represents a new low for BMW. It’s depressing in so many ways, most of all in that the author is right in that it will doubtless be hideously profitable as it is what the overly-well healed want right now. I expect the upcoming SUV Royce will manage to be even more grotesque, but for now, somehow, this X7 spares the Bentayga some blushes and I never thought I’d think that.

  2. Yet again we see a car parked in a sterile environment. I think that if the car is the thing then put it in a studio and if they want us to see it in the world, park it somewhere real and not something like an architect´s sketch.

  3. I am sure BMW are analysing Mercedes and Audi sales and working out just how profitable they are. Every other new car in the UK seems to be a Merc A- or C-class but just what margins are they giving away to achieve these sales figures?

    As for the X7, it’s unspeakably hideous. Oh BMW, how could you?

    1. A good point Jacomo and one that really deserves a separate piece of its own. I remain unclear as to the merits of being ‘number one’. After all, there’s only one direction one can go once you’re reached the summit. M-B appears to be squandering huge amounts of money and brand-cachet on their way to the top spot, but to what end?

      BMW’s conceptual Frankfurt offerings really do go to show the full bi-polarity of the Petuelring’s dilemma. One really angry looking roadster, a gargantuan and wilfully loathsome SUV and the latest in their all-electric i-family, said to be the 2019 i5. Motor industry 2017 in a nutshell.

  4. Compare and contrast the size of the grille kidneys to the E32 7-Series pictured underneath in “Related”. In 2017 more is more! R.I.P. restraint, subtlety, taste, elegance…

  5. B’gad sir! The world is going to hell in a handbasket. Sniff, grumble, grunt.

    They’ll be “crafting” these things in BMW’s SUV, er SAV world facility at Spartenberg, South Carolina, for the world’s less shy financial services people commonly called banksters, those oblivious to the lives mere mortals lead moseying around in plebeian GMC Yukon Denali XLs.

    The Denali XL (the XL coming as an inspiration from T shirt sizes for the portly) is only an inch and a half shorter than the Buick 225 of the 1960s, but has a much bluffer aspect. With its 6.2 litre Chevy 420 hp V8 and AWD, even at 2775 kg, it dispatches 0 to 100 mph in 15 seconds. And if GM senses the X7 stealing sales, well, there’s always the 650 hp supercharged engine to go. Remember, with a Denali XL, even Mickey Dee drivethroughs are too tight and forget trying to park at a supermarket or a meter. Low bridges are a positive danger to the roof rails.

    Bringing this level of daily inconvenience to the next financial class above is obviously BMW’s x7 mission statement. Or is it really just a titch in the gargantuan stakes, with hidden real world city capabilities?

    1. So we are back to the 1960s again in some ways. In the 1960s space travel and jet planes inspired cars; today many seem inspired by the imagery of the modern cowboy who is a small-time construction worker with his Hilti gun and helmet. Isn’t America a land of “becoming” and so the restlessness leads to the deep wish to look as if you are either building your ranch palace or getting rich building someone else’s.

    2. Richard, you might be right. There’s a weird craze in USA now for luxury $50k + pick ups. The buyers of these are much mocked as preening city boys going through a midlife crisis – the chrome and paintwork never gets risked by actually hauling anything, so these monster trucks often have just one occupant and no cargo.

    3. And Cadillac’s biggest money maker is the loaded Escalade. Gawd bless Lincoln and Caddy for making the XRS, MKV, FLB and MKU sedans because that’s not what the 5% want, it’s the car equivalent of a tailor-made cowboy outfit and llama skin boots: the form of the cowboy and materials of the indolent.

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