Company Aims for “Ultimate Driving Machines” at Each Level
We often seem to live in a black-and-white automotive world. Either your products are cool or hot; designed to excite or too lame to consider. On the environmental scale it’s the truly green vs. the mean gas guzzlers. That two-dimensional world isn’t one most automakers can afford to live in because consumers are a whole lot more sophisticated than that and, ultimately, car companies want to sell cars rather than satisfy folks who want to put the world into one of two boxes.
BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) is a company many view in a black/white fashion. Its forte is sporty luxury vehicles defined by its slogan—“The Ultimate Driving Machine.” As clear as that may seem to be, the company has grown in recent years (to close to two million sales worldwide) and its product portfolio has also grown and diversified. Richard Steinberg, BMW USA’s manager of product planning and strategy, told Clean Fleet Report in a recent interview at the Los Angeles Auto Show that the company now has a five-tier strategy for its products, including the new iPerformance category of plug-in electrics. The five sub-brands allow BMW to better offer cars and SUVs for a variety of customers and lifestyles.
The Rundown of the BMW Tiers
The M Brand models represent the home of the real “ultimate driving machines.” The specially modified versions of many of BMW’s models represent the brand’s highest performance aspirations, usually including turbocharged engines, manual or semi-automatic transmissions and beefed-up suspensions. The mantra for this group is to deliver “genuine sports cars.” While the flagship of the BMW brand, this category has faced challenges in recent years as ever-more-stringent environmental standards have meant the cars must also emissions and fuel economy standards around the world. That’s prompted a move to smaller turbocharged engines capable of better fuel economy along with spectacular performance.
The M Performance tier of vehicles share some of the attributes of the M models, such as engine, suspension and styling modifications, but they are typically not as dramatic as the full Ms. This portion of the brand has seen substantial growth of late as it offers much of the cache of the M without as much expense. It also can offer better fuel economy while still delivering a car an enthusiast can enjoy.
Diesel Returns to Boost the Core
In the middle of BMW brand are the core products, which Steinberg said will be getting a boost with the return of a full complement of diesel products in 2017. This broad group of cars and SUVs will likely remain the volume leader for BMW, but may eventually give ground to the two new brands on the electrified portion of the spectrum because, as Steinberg put it, “everything we sell will have a plug.” Or a new order may need to be invented where plug-in vehicles are the norm and the sub-brand differentiation is based on other attributes.
The newest model designation, introduced last year, is iPerformance, BMW’s plug-in vehicles other than the i-series sub-brand. iPerformance is where Steinberg sees the most potential because of their “no compromise” attributes that combine electric drive and gas power. Currently BMW has three models in this category, the 330e sedan, the 740e xDrive and the X5 xDrive40e, which Clean Fleet Report recently tested. As BMW “stays the course” in a quest to meet fuel economy and CO2 standards around the world, Steinberg said this group of plug-in hybrids will expand. BMW has already announced a 530e coming early in 2017 in Europe.
The electrified extreme of the BMW lineup is the i sub-brand, currently populated with the i3 (which comes in pure electric and range-extended electric versions) and the supercar plug-in hybrid
i8. The i3, introduced in 2013 as a 2014 model, is the volume leader among BMW’s plug-in models. Its high-tech carbon fiber construction and unique style mark it as the company’s serious entrant in the EV field. At the end of 2016 it established itself as the fourth best-selling pure electric in the U.S. behind the Nissan Leaf and the two Tesla models.
BMW announced it has hit a milestone of 100,000 cumulative sales combined from its i and iPerformance brands in November 2016 and aims to sell 100,000 in 2017 alone. By 2025 company spokespersons have said they expect electrified models to represent between 15 and 25 percent of total sales.
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