A Gran Farewell

As BMW makes plans for Gran’s early demise, we ask what (if any) meaning there is to be derived from it all. 

A front-wheel drive 7-seater car. Image: what car.com

Holed beneath the waterline for some time now, the European MPV/Minivan market is fast approaching an ‘all hands to the lifeboats’ scenario, as market incumbents seek a means of escape from the cost implications of the sector’s sales implosion.

Until now, it has been the mainstream carmakers who have been for the most part wielding death’s scythe, but as market conditions deteriorate, even the more upmarket brands are starting to feel the unmistakable sensation of cold bent steel upon their napes.

Having hastened the mainstream MPV’s demise by their belated encroach a number of years ago, BMW and Mercedes now appear to be reconsidering the wisdom of their avarice, with the Bavarians actively suggesting that the best thing for Gran might be a nice little retirement home in a year or two’s time.

As reported very much en passant by Autocar last week, BMW’s Vice President of Product Management, Peter Henrick was quoted as saying that while both Active and Gran Tourer models had been successful in bringing new customers to the Vierzylinder, they were unlikely to be replaced once they completed their product cycles. In their wake, he said, BMW would look to transition existing customers to their crossover CUV offerings.

Henrick, an individual who clearly has a good deal to answer for in recent product strategy terms, also made the following rather staggering statement, alleging that these models are “not at the centre of what our brand today stands for.” It’s easy to ascertain that he has a background in marketing.

‘Not at the centre of what our brand today stands for’. Has there (since 1959 at least) been a point in time when a front wheel drive minivan in two sizes represented the centre of Munich-Milbertshofen’s brand aspirations? But leaving aside the sheer affront of his statement, we are faced with the cliff-face futility of the entire Active/ Gran Tourer exercise. All that brand-damage and for what?

Conversely, Henrick’s statement raises another question. What does BMW’s brand stand for in the year 2019? Because given that it once stood for this, we can safely deduce that it can just as rationally stand for anything else one might care to imagine.

All of which sounds like good news for BMW’s liberated product strategists, if not perhaps for those of us who once placed a premium on those brand values that BMW is now carelessly tossing aside.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

15 thoughts on “A Gran Farewell”

  1. The Active/Gran Tourer story, as it was told to me by people who should know, is that it was the offspring of a period of time when the German ‘premiums’ felt they’d run out of challenges and hence only had themselves to compete with. Which resulted in the 2 series van being created mainly to spoil Mercedes’ B-class business.

    Herr Henrick will probably have a very different angle to offer – quite possibly something to do with combining the convenience of an MPV with the kind of Ultimate Driving Pleasure that can only be aroused by a product from Milbertshofen – but I’m fully prepared to belief the ‘we’re so shamelessly successful that we can only win anything anymore by making a direct competitors lose’ take.

  2. Peter Henrick’s explanation, that the company’s MPV models will not be replaced because they don’t represent the BMW brand values (ever? or anymore?) is entirely disingenuous. The simple truth is that MPV sales have crashed, so there is no economic argument for replacement. If MPVs were still selling, BMW would still want its slice of the pie, and to hell with its brand values. Interestingly, Mercedes-Benz still thinks there’s worthwhile sales to be made in this segment, hence the introduction of new B-Class recently.

    BMW and Mercedes-Benz have both attempted to stretch their eponymous brands to cover every conceivable (and a few inconceivable) market segments, apparently without causing significant damage to sales of their “core” models*. Both companies have subsidiary brands, Mini and Smart respectively, but the former is laden with the historical baggage of the name and its design cues, and the latter is too city-car niche, so it appears that neither can plausibly extended to offer a full mainstream range.

    BMW has recently made a half-hearted and rather crass attempt to distinguish its top line models with that “black label” nonsense, similar to Ford’s Vignale exercise, which is more likely to offend the majority of BMW buyers than flatter the minority. What both manufacturers really need(ed) is a distinctive second brand for their more mainstream models. The Gran Tourer would have made an excellent Rover, for example. Of course, that ship has long sailed and we are where we are.

    *It’s a moot point as to what models are “core” these days, given the overwhelming current popularity of SUVs and their derivatives.

  3. Wasn’t it Eberhard von Kuenheim who said that BMW would never, ever build an MPV because cars of that kind didn’t fit the brand? He also said that BMW would always build one car less than the market demanded.
    Seems he was a wise man.

    MPVs were a hype just as SUVs currently are and as hypes go, this one has come to its end.
    I never understood why people bought cars that offered no more space than a conventional estate car (or two additional seats where in normal circumstances the luggage of the other seats would go) but had all kinds of negative characteristics, not least unfavourable driving characteristics due to their high centre of gravity combined withthe frontal area of a wardrobe. A big Volvo estate could everything an MPV could but drove like a normal car.

    1. As someone whose family owns both several big Volvo estates as well as an MPV, the Volvos have got no answer to the height of the cargo area in the minivan. My dad once moved an entire apartment including a twin bed as well as a couch from Los Angeles to San Jose in the back of the Honda Odyssey; it would have certainly taken more trips with the Volvo estate! And while the day-to-day use of the MPV may be alien to European readers, the Odyssey was always remarkable for its ability to take my parents, our high school string quartet, and all our instruments (2 violins, a viola, and a cello, of course) simultaneously without any lap-sitting or cargo cramming!

  4. BMW has gone to the dogs like Cadbury’s, but without being taken over by a foreign conglomerate. What used to be a decent bar of chocolate, with a Fruit and Nut spinoff for the last seven decades, became a blob without the indentations so that you can’t snap off a chunk readily, and half a dozen or more variations with various kinds of insertions of second grade confections meant presumably to appeal to someone or other. I am speaking of the Canadian market firm’s products, once the noble offshoot of the original company, and where the top secret Caramilk bar was invented – the UK version was never anywhere near as good nor as popular. The upshot over the last few years has been when one went to purchase a bar of original Milk Chocolate in a supermarket, there’d often be none left, while the other racks were still filled to the brim with the Yankee idea of targeted marketing variations. You’d think there’d be a message there if anyone at Mondelez International were awake enough to notice.

    A belaboured analogy of explication perhaps, but it sums up BMW for me. Variation without taste. Originals changed from the easy and simple models of size by class and luxury to the present mishmash of overwrought styling and head-splittingly confusing variations within each size particularly the 3, combined with enough other models of SAVs and minivans to completely confuse the unwary. Thankfully, the Gran was never inflicted on our market. Mazda mopped up the few mini-minivan available sales with their 5 for half the price of a 3 series for years anyway, and it was a feisty little bucket to boot, prone to making loads of OAPs hoot with delight.

    Running BMW is a wearying business for its main owners. “Dealing with the responsibility and jealousy from inheriting wealth is a misunderstood burden, according to Susanne Klatten and Stefan Quandt, the billionaire siblings who together own almost half of BMW AG.”, they confessed to Bloomberg the other day. It’s enough to make you want to weep with sympathy. If only there were enough hours in a day…..


    Still, one presumes the current BMW model spread of this and that, the profusion of FWD based on the UKL2 MINI platform, the dizzying option sheets thereon some of which detail things which should be standard in any case, where Apple Car Play is subject to an annual fee, and other ripoffs of the rather tasteless variety for exorbitant sums considering what you get, was not masterminded by the Quandts. Their delegated authority to the professionals they employ, and the individual need for those people to maximize their annual bonuses, led to the the current huge bewildering choice, rather unlike the Japanese approach which targets individual markets with appropriate vehicles instead. The smarmy salesmen at the BMW dealer outlets who would have you believe they are retailing solid gold at incredibly attractive prices seem to know nothing much except how to calculate lease and finance payments for the actual units they have so lovingly chosen for stock. I’ve tried a couple of times to find a model I’d carefully worked out in advance I’d probably like, but apparently my taste conflicts with that of the general public who actually shell out for executive secretary specials and gonzo gigantica, so I was out of luck for even a test drive. To heck with them and their attitudes.

    One supposes that the eventual demise of the Gran will be noticed by no one, mourned by nobody, and except for the eagle-eyed crew at DTW not even mentioned in polite conversation.

    1. Your contribution made me smile, Bill, especially the description of the stereotypical BMW salesman and showroom experience, although I imagine (or hope!) they do vary somewhat in attitude and atmosphere.

      I have recent experience of dealing with two different Porsche Dealerships, ths nearest to me but both roughly 75 miles away, so a significant journey on my part to patronise them. The first, to which my Boxster was taken for some warranty work (a failed oil level sensor that effectively disabled the car, since I was told that I would drive it further “at my own risk”.) There I was treated like an annoying inconvenience by the Service Advisor, to be seen off the premises as quickly as possible. I was happy yo oblige and won’t be returning. The second, which performed a regular service, treated me with courtesy, did what I asked, had the car ready before the agreed time and called to let me know this. In both cases however, the sales staff completely ignored me as I walked around the showroom peering into various models. I can only conclude that, notwithstanding the fact that I already own one of their cars, I must have looked too scruffy and impecunious to be considered a potential Porsche customer…

      Happily, we getting a new Porsche dealership in my nearest city, just 18 miles away. Whether they will be any better remains to be seen. In any event, also there’s an excellent independent Porsche specialist who looked after my previous (secondhand) Boxster as it was out of warranty.

      Interesting observations about chocolate too. I remember thinking “what’s all the fuss about” when I tasted my first Hershey bar a few years ago. Fine, but certainly not worth dropping your, er, inhibitions for.*

      Apologies again to all for another of my off-topic rambles.

      *A WW2 reference, for all the youngsters out there who might have laboured through to the end of my ramble.

  5. The irony here is that this news follows the recent reveal of the new, FWD 1 series. So as the core BMW offer moves away from the longitudinally aligned drive train that has served them so well, the industrial logic for doing so starts to come apart at the seams.

    They must be banking on selling a lot of X2s to make up the volume… surely, the worst BMW in decades?

    1. Yes, it may very well be, but if people bought the Active and Gran Tourer models, then they’d buy anything with a BMW badge, and the X2 gives them, er, X2 times the normal complement of BMW roundels, so happy days!

    2. It’s all as logical and sensible as British politics…… the world has gone mad!

  6. Recently BMW lost money. Panic! apparently they discovered that competing with Citroen, Renault, Ford and VW is not a great business. Last time they panicked they sold Land-Rover. Maybe they will be looking around to get rid of Mini. Daimler recently handed Smart over to Geely.

  7. Why is there is still a B-Class?

    BMW tries, take the Gran Taxismo, for example.

    Why did this noble effort fail? The wheels were way too fancy.

  8. In their relentless pursuit of getting their badge onto the bonnet of something in every possible category niche, BMW have forgotten what their core values are. It’s a cynical corporate strategy to wring every last cent out of the business for the shareholder, and maximise bonuses for the execs. The irony of all this, of course, is they’re actually decimating the brand value in the process. Mind you, you could say the same about Benz, Audi and VW too.

    And Cadbury? Don’t get me started!

  9. BMW’s core values are out of date and need replacing.

    The market for rear wheel drive sports saloons with a Hofmeister-Kink might even be growing moderately in absolute terms but in relative terms it is most certainly shrinking drastically. These values then don’t serve a stock listed company well.

    To my eyes BMW has made an incredibly convincing attempt to modernize its DNA with the launch of its i3 and i8 series. Unfortunately the market hasn’t blessed the i-cars with success – even though this verdict is probably mostly due to exaggerated expectations. The two cars just were way too far ahead of their time.

    But instead of continuing to believe in them, BMW appears to have abandoned the spirit they represented and is now lost at sea, blown by the confusing winds of market forecasts into all directions at once. It has the looks of a confused and disoriented car manufacturer clinging to it’s brand emblem as if it was a lifesaver that could float through the stormiest of seas. And it probably can for a short while before eventually it will deflate.

    Let’s wish them luck.

  10. I wonder whether they will be tempted to make a pick-up truck at some point (see also: X-class).

    Apparently someone at Audi is of the opinion that there is a “gap” between Q2 and Q3, resulting in the proposed A3 Cityhopper. Which is an A3 with Allroad-type styling, and a name reminiscent of an urban bus scheme. Rover Streetwise was ahead of the game, it would seem. (that car may have sold a little better without the ridiculous name)

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