By on March 23, 2010

While the autoblogosphere frets bout whether BMW drivers can tell which wheels drive their cars, the real news in the BMW-goes-FWD storyline is the impact that the sea change in brand strategy is expected to have on volume. Automotive News [sub] reports that BMW is developing a new family of modular gas and diesel engines, which are intended “primarily for BMW’s new front-wheel-drive architecture, but the powerplants also will be used in the automaker’s rear-wheel-drive cars,” according to CEO Norbert Reithofer. And the volume at which this new family of three, four and six-cylinder engines will be produced is one of the early indications of where BMW is going with its FWD expansion. Today, BMW sells just under 1.3m vehicles worldwide. That’s fewer cars than will be powered by this new family of engines alone, which Reithofer says will motivate 1.5m vehicles worldwide. Considering BMW’s goal is to sell 2m vehicles of all its brands by 2020, it’s clear that much of that growth will be made possible by new FWD-inclusive drivetrain technology.

According to Reithofer, 700,000 to 1 million cars per year will be built on the firm’s new FWD platform by 2014 or 2015. By contrast, BMW currently sells about 400,000 small and compact cars annually, which includes the FWD MINI and the RWD 1 Series. Furthermore, it took eight years, between 2001 and June of 2009, to produce 1.5m MINI-branded vehicles. MINI’s best sales year was 2008, when it sold about 230,000 cars. BMW’s 1-series has performed similarly, selling 225,000 units in 2008 and 217,000 in 2009 [full BMW 2009 report in PDF format here]. Clearly BMW is going to need more than one new model to make serious inroads towards its hugely ambitious goal.

Currently, Reithofer is keeping his cards fairly close to his chest. A new MINI is due in 2014 and the “BMW 0 Series” FWD model will debut shortly thereafter, positioned under the RWD 1 Series. From there, it’s anyone’s guess. Or, as Reithofer puts it, BMW can’t spill the beans “because then [VW CEO Martin] Winterkorn knows it as well.” After all, the 3800mm to 4300mm size bracket for this new platform puts it squarely in Volkswagen Golf territory, and nobody wants to compete there with a single model. The Golf is based based on a modular platform, similar in concept to BMW’s, but between its many brands and bodystyles, Volkswagen plans to build no fewer than 60 variants of the MQB (Golf) platform.

In short, BMW is planning on running right into the buzzsaw that is the most competitive segment in Europe. Of course, there’s not much choice involved in the decision, because steep ramp-ups in European emissions standards will make BMW’s current business model largely impracticable. Meanwhile, faced with the same pressure, Mercedes will be launching a similar FWD volume-grab based on platforms and technology that will emerge from ongoing talks with Renault/Nissan. Audi has already moved to downsize with its new A1, and with sales and perception momentum as well as VW’s platform synergies behind it, Ingolstadt has already stolen the march on BMW. Which means the market for premium (or not) front-drive compact cars is going to be white-hot within the next few years.

BMW is increasingly an anomaly within the auto business: a privately-owned, independent manufacturer that is not quite a focused niche player and yet also isn’t prepared to compete in the scary world of true volume automaking. With emissions standards nipping at its heels, and with growth a necessary constant for industry success, BMW has little choice but to commit to a full-on, mass-market transformation. Whether BMW can perform this shift while keeping its all-important brand equity intact is a huge open question, and one that will be answered by the firm’s execution from here on out.

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24 Comments on “BMW: One Million FWD Cars By 2015...”


  • avatar
    Stingray

    “And the volume at which this new family of three, four and six-cylinder engines will be produced is one of the early indications of where BMW is going with its FWD expansion”

    V6 engine? or they are going to do like Volvo and Daewoo and put an I-6 in a FWD car.

    Is it transversal or longitudinal?

  • avatar
    PanzerJaeger

    Government regulations FTW! ….. :(

  • avatar
    ajla

    A commenter brought this up before, but why didn’t they just buy Saab?

  • avatar
    midelectric

    How does this dovetail with their electric drive plans (if at all)? A rear-motored subcompact with an underfloor battery pack would be a load of fun and space efficient without compromising brand integrity with FWD.

  • avatar
    segfault

    The end is nigh.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Let’s hope they do it better than Mercedes whose foray into FWD was the A and B class which seemed to combine 90s Korean build quality and refinement with the exorbitant price tag of a Merc.

    My guess would be that the 3 5 and 7 series are safe from too much tampering but that the BMW FWD focus will be on the compact and subcompact market. They have been quite successful with the Mini but will need to be careful not to dilute their brand for the sake of volume.

    There is also much they can still do to improve the fuel economy of their RWD offerings so I wouldn’t necessarily characterize the expansion to FWD as a flight from RWD due to economy standards. It isn’t as if making the 7 series FWD would cure their fuel economy problems. The move to FWD is probably much more about expanding their product line to smaller cars where RWD simply isn’t practical.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    With the brand equity BMW has in the U.S. they could (and probably will) introduce an entire line up of cars priced under the 3 series with some of them priced under the 1 series. BMW would be a very viable option in the $25-40k range. As established as their current U.S. line up is I don’t think that would dilute their brand equity either. If any manufacturer currently selling in the U.S. could pull this off it would be BMW.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Better remember to figure on one thing, however . . . . . BMW’s absolute unwillingness to allow a car to be priced below $30,000.00. We all waited for the 1 series to arrive, believing that it’d finally be an “affordable BMW for the rest of us”. What did we get? 6 cylinders only (fours are for Mini’s and pre-E46′s), and a bare stripped tag of something like $29,995.00.

      And I wouldn’t put it past these guys to bring out a BMW with the equivalent on-paper specs of a, say, Mazda3 – and charge $30,000.00 plus for it.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    Sigh.

  • avatar
    tced2

    “Of course, there’s not much choice involved in the decision, because steep ramp-ups in European emissions standards will make BMW’s current business model largely impracticable. ”

    The folks in the District of Control are of like mind as the European authorities. Smaller cars=less mass. Less mass means less energy to move. And less energy means better fuel economy and emissions.

  • avatar
    forraymond

    318ti, oy

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Volvo pulled it off in the 90′s. If they can keep from cannibalizing their bread and butter lines they might be able to do it too.
    I wouldn’t be surprised that a new nameplate shows up though. Leave “BMW” as the premium brand and slot something else below it. Compact, FWD and possibly sporty with nice pricepoints for the “value” buyer. I certainly like that more than the dilution of the BMW brand.

    • 0 avatar
      Nicodemus

      A good point. It is worth noting that BMW made the decision to specifically retain both the Triumph and Riley marques when they offloaded all the other Rover Group nameplates.

      You have to wonder why they did this.

  • avatar
    bking12762

    Isn’t it cheaper to produce a fwd?

  • avatar
    niky

    Sadly, for I6 fans, those sixes may just be V6s, building up volume from shared engineering with the new line of I3s that BMW is planning to produce. I3s and V6s will be much easier to package within the engine bay of a future RWD 3-series, allowing them to have shorter engine bays, saving weight and freeing up more passenger space.

    +1 on the A-class / B-class. After having sampled both B and C, I don’t know why anyone would buy a B-Class over a C-Class, extra space or not. Just not enough luxury or refinement to merit the badge.

    That’ll be the biggest challenge for BMW… their “stripper” models are already woefully plasticky (albeit well-assembled and quite solid), so a 0-series runs the risk of blurring the line between “premium” and “regular” just a bit too much.

  • avatar
    stuki

    If, as the Europeans here claim, it is true that by far the volume sellers amongst the 1s are the 116 and small diesels, this might just be brilliant. For bopping around crowded cities looking cool and sipping fuel, who needs RWD anyway?

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    They’ve dabbled in carbon fibre and sold their product for YEARS on the basis that RWD is the driver’s choice (it is).

    Combine the two for the future and keep the unique product proposition.

    I’m dreaming of an NA I6 RWD M3 with an LF-A like body (or I’ll just have an LF-A thanks).

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Why not use a name they bought up in the past, and tossed aside? They want to go down-market, but something above MINI brand.

    Why not Goggomobil or better yet, Glas, as a brand?

    Initially market it as Glas by BMW then once name recognition is in place, Glas.

    Sell them at all MINI and BMW stores.

    FWD would be fine, since they wouldn’t be BMW’s any more than MINIs are, in one sense; but they’d be FWD BMW’s in the sense of being engineered by the BMW people.

    Then build them where they’re sold, as much as is possible. Germany, USA, South Africa…

    Yes, a transverse inline six is technically possible (usually with the clutch or torque convertor then power transfer chain to transmission then final drive in the center of the car).

    Inline sixes are much smoother than V6′s and simpler to build. A 75mm bore and stroke would net 1987cc’s, therefore under 2 litres (important in many markets for taxation purposes). This could be a “bespoke” engine “BMW-Glas” and MINI inline fours could be used for “lesser” (Euro-spec) cars.

    Howzat for an idea, BMW?

  • avatar

    A BMW should be RWD how its always has been and how it should stay, guess I won’t be buying another one in this case

    ———————————–
    http://www.soulmate.uk-online-dating.net

  • avatar
    A is A

    “They want to go down-market, but something above MINI brand.

    Why not Goggomobil or better yet, Glas, as a brand?”

    The 1959 Mini was designed to get out of the road bubblecars as the Goggo or the Glas.

    “In a word, the Mini was conceived in response to a crisis… Due to the Middle East crisis, petrol rationing returned to the UK in December 1956 and people began to clamour for more economical means of travel. The sales of 900-1000cc cars quadrupled in the period from 1956 to 1957, while car sales in the wider market slumped. German bubble cars began to appear on these shores, and although they may have been awful to drive, with questionable safety, they did achieve more than 40 miles per gallon, which was the most important statistic a car could boast in those petrol-starved times…In a parallel response to Herbert Austin’s disgust at the proliferation of motorcycle/sidecar combinations on UK roads thirty-five years previously, Leonard Lord viewed the popularity of bubble cars with the same distaste. As Lord informed Issigonis in March 1957, “God damn these bloody awful bubble cars. We must drive them off the streets by designing a proper small car”

    http://www.aronline.co.uk/index.htm?ado15story1f.htm

    The Mini brand is several notches ABOVE Goggo or Glas in the mind of that 0.5% of humankind who know/care what “Goggo” and “Glas” meant 60 years ago (i.e., the Tata Nanos of the 1950s).

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    And BMW has just become “every other car company on the planet…”

    BAH.


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