I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with BMW right now. I’m going to start by saying that everything they have always done well they continue to do at the highest level. The basic M cars, 1, 3, 5, 6, and 7 series cars are all pretty much where they should be, the SUVs as well with the exception of the X6. My problems lie with their attempting to over-segment the market, and how so many of the culprits being just awful cars with little or no purpose.
I’m going to start with the X6, BMW’s SUV with the design of a coupe….or at least in theory. Jeremy Clarkson ripped the car in his review on Top Gear saying that it was trying to be too many different things and wound up just being mediocre or bad at everything because of it. I would have to agree with him there, except for the fact that his tests were all based on actual tasks with a purpose such as off-roading or fuel economy. The reality is the X6 was meant to be “stylish” and “cool” for the people who only like to use their big SUVs to run errands that could be equally accomplished with a Mini Cooper. So in theory it should sell, because many people want that sort of thing, and it sort of has. Here lies the biggest problem with the X6; what percentage of people who bought an X6 would have bought the X5 had the X6 never been made? In my opinion is that almost all of them, at least 80% of X6 customers would have bought an X5. So really, all the X6 has done is cannibalize X5 sales, which makes it basically pointless, an answer to a question nobody had asked. Sure they may turn some profit due to a bit of a price premium over the X5, but honestly I think their efforts would have been better spent elsewhere.
Another of my gripes lies with all of the “GT” models BMW has made and is making. The 5 Series GT paved the way and it is seriously flawed. First off the design is absolutely hideous, like a handsome 5 series walked into a glass door and got squished. It has basically become the 5 Series Wagon, but for some reason BMW felt the need to compromise their great chassis with a bunch of crossover bits that are completely unnecessary for buyers in this segment. Anyone who would use such features would just to buy an X3 or and X5. So my question is what is, wrong with just having the 5 series wagon available for special orders (even with low demand this works)? Again, like the X6, BMW has spent their resources doing something completely pointless. BMW had their segmenting just right for so long and now they seem to be fumbling it a little, not unlike GM did before they needed a bailout. I say internal competition is NEVER a good thing because you are wasting resources that are limited to begin with.
BMW are also currently developing a number of smaller front wheel drive cars in order to keep up with industry regulations on emissions and fuel economy. I realize this is necessary and I even think it’s a good idea in many areas, but two of their propositions need some rethinking. The first is the upcoming Z2, a small roadster set below the Z4 that will compete with the likes of the Mazda MX5 and Audi TT. Here’s the problem: it will be front wheel drive. BMW needs to realize that the MX-5’s success has been based on the fact that it is a simple, cheap, rear drive, sports car; a pure driver’s car for cheap. It has similar dynamics to the more powerful sports cars, just with less power and for a lot less money. A fwd Z2 I do not think will work, especially from the likes of BMW, who have, until now, not sold their soul to fwd. The car will turn BMW enthusiasts off completely, and only those who are concerned with image along will be interested. Therefore I think that if they do make this car in fwd they should forget trying to make it a driver’s car and just make it the fashion accessory it will turn out to be anyway. I am hoping they change their mind and make the Z2 rear-drive because I think it would be brilliant as a slightly up market MX5 competitor, but we shall see what happens.
Finally my gripe with BMW’s management in general is their hesitation with brining a full line of diesels here to the US. There should be a diesel option for every model except for the true sports cars like the Z4, but even that could be fun with the right diesel offering. Having driven a 335D I can attest to the brilliance of a diesel motor in luxury cars and sport sedans. The 335D felt just as good as the gasoline 335i and the diesel will touch 40mpg. Currently all we have diesels in are the 3 series and the X5 and that is an issue because the offerings of the diesel 5 series and X3, which already exist over in Europe, are just as good as their gasoline counterparts. The problem with Americans is that they have stigmatized diesel with the thought of a loud rattling dump truck or school bus, and not the extremely competent and efficient power train that it actually is. BMW needs to just bring the rest of their diesels here and use an aggressive marketing campaign to break the stigma held by the ignorant. I think the simple reality of equal performance with double the fuel mileage would be enough for most people because otherwise they are actually quite similar. Most BMWs only take premium gas to begin with, and diesel is usually around the same price so the issues of higher costs in lower market cars do not apply here. Also, BMW really needs to offer all wheel drive versions of their diesel cars because all that torque makes snow driving very difficult. A 335xd or a 535xd would likely be a smash hit in areas with different seasonal weather.
I love BMWs, they are some of the best cars on the road. For a while their management had done a great job with their offerings in the marketplace, but recently they have just gone overboard using their resources to make useless versions of cars that were already just fine. They need to spend more time on marketing their established segments so they can avoid internal competition among models, and use their resources for real innovations (hydrogen, etc). They also need to market their line of diesels more aggressively in the US because there is a huge potential segment that just needs a little encouragement to wake up. Everyone in the US is eco crazy and obsessed with fuel economy, but most people don’t want to give up the performance of their gas guzzlers though. Diesel offers the same performance with mpg numbers rivaling the slow and silly hybrids, so it seems an obvious choice. BMW’s management just needs to wake up, too many people are over-doing their job and, as shown by GM in recent years, such practices can be dangerous.
Images courtesy of: netcarshow.com and http://www.ninjamedia.co.cc/2011/02/bmw-z2-roadster-concept.html