The Truth About Cars » BMW 320i http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Jul 2014 13:00:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » BMW 320i http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Generation Why: BMW And Mercedes Ignore Coach At Their Peril, Part II http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/generation-why-bmw-and-mercedes-ignore-coach-at-their-peril-part-ii/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/generation-why-bmw-and-mercedes-ignore-coach-at-their-peril-part-ii/#comments Wed, 23 Jan 2013 20:15:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=474946

After a long slog through NAIAS and getting TTAC’s house in order for the new year, I was delighted to see the response to my first big endeavor of the year, my Generation Why piece. But with 174 comments and multiple tangents, I wanted to open up the floor to clarify a few things.

1) I should have been more clear in my thesis. While I highlighted both the BMW 320i and the Mercedes-Benz CLA, due to having both of them debut at NAIAS, I do not think they can be weighted equally

2) The 320i is really not that drastic of a departure for BMW’s North American product range – or world product range for that matter. As I mentioned, Canada has had a 3-Series model below the 325/328i for over a decade. This model is actually fairly spartan in its options and features (at least the E46 and E390 variants were) and it’s not unusual to find stick shift models purchased by older guys who just want a fun sports sedan. We all know that the majority of these cars in the U.S. will not be equipped like this, but the point remains the same – it’s not such a departure from BMW’s past ethos. Unfortunately, a number of commenters seized upon the 320i example – to the point of turning it into a strawman – as a means of criticizing my thesis (that a premium auto maker’s quest for volume and short term profits will ultimately erode that brand equity over the long term).

3) I should have been more clear in my piece that the product that’s really in danger of doing damage is the Mercedes CLA. The 320i is ultimately a 3-Series, and part of BMW’s core range. The CLA on the other hand, is a strange bird for Americans. It is a stubby, compact car with odd proportions. For those in the know, it is a front-drive, four-cylinder Benz, something that those types will equate with a cheaper car. For those who don’t know, it’s a Mercedes, but it’s small – and small does not mean premium to many American car buyers. Yes, Mercedes and BMW are full-line car companies in Europe. But merely having a car in Europe is a privilege  Anything larger or more expensive than a Golf is a luxury, and that’s why the A/B-Class, 1-Series and A3 work over there. They are right-sized, but pricey enough to let everyone know you’re not clipping Carrefour coupons.

4) I still re-affirm my belief that allowing too many people to obtain a premium product harms its very nature. Let too many people into your exclusive nightclub and it suddenly becomes passe. If too many people can buy your premium clothing line at T.J. Maxx or Marshalls, its seen as a mass-market product, or worse, something for poor people. I’m fairly agnostic when it comes to “brand values” or “heritage” – that stuff is just pap cooked up by suits and sold to wide-eyed types as a marketing narrative. I find it conceivable that, in such a crowded, competitive marketplace, traditional Mercedes customers could abandon the brand if too many undesirables are seen as entering the brand via the CLA and other lower-end cars. In more affluent communities, there are already soccer moms driving AMG SUVs merely because they are more expensive than the more pedestrian GL550s and ML320 Bluetecs. If this is the trend, then how much more damage can a $30,000 compact do?

 

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Generation Why: BMW And Mercedes Ignore Coach At Their Peril http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/generation-why-bmw-and-mercedes-ignore-coach-at-their-peril/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/generation-why-bmw-and-mercedes-ignore-coach-at-their-peril/#comments Tue, 22 Jan 2013 18:14:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=474795

BMW’s debut of the American-spec 320i at this year’s NAIAS may have been big news for the American auto press, but up here in frigid Canuckistan, the 320i is old hat. Roughly a decade ago, BMW launched the $33,900 320i, along with an ad campaign touting its price, which was comparable to a well equipped Honda Accord.

Very few Accord customers were poached by BMW; those looking for an Accord wanted the extra space, the power from a comparably-priced Accord V6 and found a BMW a little too obnoxious. Car enthusiasts may have been attracted to the rear-drive dynamics and the silky inline-six engine, but the 170 horsepower figure was considered lacking, and what better way to out oneself as a try-hard striver than to buy the cheapo, leatherette-equipped base 3-Series?

BMW ended up doing fairly brisk business with the 320i, with much of their client base consisting of young, professional women (whether in the workforce or collecting an annuity from the First Bank of Mom and Dad) who also would have carried a Coach handbag. I say “would have”, because at the time, Coach was the bridge between a nasty department store house brand and the absurdly expensive Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga or Hermes bags. Remember, this was a decade ago and we were a few orders of magnitude removed from today. The cheap-credit-and-Kardashian-fueled mental illness that compelled the masses to find one percent aspirational goods essential to one’s well-being was barely in a gestational stage. The idea of spending four figures on a handbag when one worked at an entry-level white collar job would have been seen as irresponsible and reckless at worst, crass at best.

Fast forward a decade; a confluence of societal forces, from fashion magazines to reality TV to rap music, has convinced us that luxury goods are the key to fulfillment and happiness in life. I don’t mean traditional luxury goods, like a mechanical watch, or a well-made pair of shoes or bespoke clothing that requires a significant upfront investment in return for a lifespan of a few decades (or, in the case of a good watch, one that may outlive you by a couple generations). I mean luxury as in lug-zhur-ee, proletarian crap made somewhere offshore and sold for an absurd markup (most clothing items sold in Neiman Marcus, Saks or Bloomingdales), or worse, objects that serve as tokens of social status that masquerade as ethically or morally superior consumption choices  despite evidence that asserts the dubious nature of these claims (any food or clothing item that is “local”, “organic”, “sustainable”, “artisanal” or any combination of these buzzwords).

Left without any sort of moral, spiritual, familial or economically stability in the first quarter of life, Generation Why has become the most aspirational generation of all-time, and the onslaught of smart phones and social media has enabled this disease like a co-dependent parent plying their drug addict child with money for meth and cigarettes. I myself am guilty of this, taking a perverse pleasure in posting photos of press cars on Facebook so that former highschool classmates I haven’t spoken to in years can press “Like” on my photos. But Mercedes-Benz and BMW are far better at making money off this phenomenon.

At NAIAS, the two brands released two cars aimed dead-on at Generation Why members with a bit of money or reasonable access to credit: the newest generation 320i is a novel and exciting foray for BMW USA, but Mercedes-Benz’s CLA is an entirely new frontier for German luxury cars, one that BMW won’t catch up to for a couple more years.

At this point, obnoxious Audi die-hards will note that the A3 and A4 have long been entry-level, front drive options like the CLA, but I’m inclined to dismiss these assertions. The A4′s front-drive layout was a consequence of circumstances, while the current generation A3, fine car as it may be, is a half-hearted Euro-transplant ill-suited for the American market (but great for Canada). The CLA, on the other hand, is expressly designed to be a cut-rate, entry-level Benz, devoid of substance, awkwardly styled and priced just far enough out of reach for a no-credit Cruze customer, but just accessibly enough that a pharmaceutical sales rep or social media brand strategist could afford the $299 a month lease payment.

There is one and only one reason behind the move; volume. The unquenchable quest for volume has led to a sales war between Mercedes-Benz and BMW, with both companies also trying to stave off a full-frontal assault by Audi. All three companies can use their premium positions and scale to capitalize on both margins and volume (Audi may be best suited for this, due to its scale and modular platforms, but that’s another article in itself). And while Europe may be in the toilet, the appetite for premium cars is still strong – hell, why buy a Focus when you can buy a front-drive BMW 1-Series or Mercedes B-Class that costs just as much? Needless to say, the hunger in America has only grown, even as the economy has nosedived. Even if you and everyone else is worse off compared to 2008, god forbid you should display any outward signs of frugality (which is of course, weakness and a loss of social status).

Sounds foolproof, right? After all, Mercedes, BMW and Audi have such strong brands that it will be almost impossible to erode their equity as premium marques, and they can continue to pump out front drive compacts until the Eurozone implodes. If you’re a management track sycophant at one of those companies, then that’s what you’ll tell the board.

Everyone else should take note of what happened to Coach. Their bags, once desirable luxury goods, are now the sort of thing that overprivileged mothers joke about giving to their Filipino nannies as Christmas gifts. Except it’s not a joke – ride the bus near the wealthy neighborhoods of Toronto, and you’ll see Coach bags being carried by the help, even though they live in low-rent walkups.  The rich moms and daughters have moved on to Longchamp bags for every day, and the previously unthinkable Hermes, Louis V, Balenciaga and all manner of obscure boutique labels that nobody has ever heard of and will forget about in six months (what the fuck is a Proenza Schouler bag? I don’t know, but that didn’t stop one girl from telling me how much she paid – as much as a solid NB Miata – and how long she waited for it on a waiting list).

Lest you think this has no relevance to the auto market, think back to when just having a Mercedes was a big deal, how extravagant and expensive it was to have a vinyl-upholstered 240D that took a glacial age to hit 60 mph. But it was imported and foreign and therefore prestigious. Now any of our new age celebrity demigods – think the Kardashians, or Lil Wayne or Dwight Howard – wouldn’t be caught dead in anything less than an S-Class. A Bentley, a G-Wagen or a 458 Italia are really the minimum requirement, and even the Bugatti Veyron, the finest car in the world from a technological standpoint, is the province of D-list rap stars and domestic abusers. The only reason that the top-tier of luxury and performance vehicles is considered the minimum entrypoint for “baller status” is directly related to the erosion of Mercedes and BMW as a brand completely out of reach for the masses. Now that any 9-5 working stiff has “an entrypoint into the brand”, they’re not nearly as special as they once were. They are fast becoming the Coach bags of the luxury car world, and all the pretty rich boys and girls have moved on to the really exclusive stuff, the Bugattis, Bentleys and Birkin bags.

The CLA and the 320i may fool the terminally insecure, regardless of age or gender, but Generation Why, the one that doesn’t care about cars, probably won’t be fooled. If there’s one thing we are good at, it’s detecting disingenuous appeals to our own vanity and self-importance. Personally, I’m hoping for a return to a new kind of luxury, one that is discreet, efficient and pampering to those who are in the know or behind the wheel. The 2013 Accord V6 Touring looks like it would fit the bill quite nicely. And what do you know, it’s only as much as a poorly-equipped 3-Series.

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NAIAS 2013: BMW 320i Takes The Leasing World By Storm http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/naias-2013-bmw-320i-takes-the-leasing-world-by-storm/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/naias-2013-bmw-320i-takes-the-leasing-world-by-storm/#comments Mon, 14 Jan 2013 17:28:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=473734

Canadians have long been privy to a stripped down, lease-special BMW in the form of the 320i. Thanks to BMW’s insatiable quest for volume, Americans will be too. For $33,445, you’ll get a 180 horsepower turbo 4-cylinder and an 8-speed automatic, with a 34 mpg highway rating. And the unbearable stigma of the 320i badge.

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Junkyard Find: 1983 BMW 320i http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/junkyard-find-1983-bmw-320i/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/junkyard-find-1983-bmw-320i/#comments Sun, 20 May 2012 13:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=445205 Between the old-timey 2002 and the hugely influential E30, there was the E21. Over in Yurp, BMW shoppers could buy 315s and 316s and 323s and I don’t know what all, but here in North America we know the E21 almost exclusively via the good old 320i. The 2002 overlapped E21 production by a couple of years; likewise, BMW showrooms in 1983 held the final examples of the 320i side-by-side with the brand-new E30-platform 318i. Here’s an example of one of those end-times E21s, spotted last week in a Denver self-service wrecking yard.
Either somebody pried off the little “i” on this emblem without leaving a mark, or we’re looking at a European-market 320 trunk lid. Such are the mysteries of the junkyard.
Almost 220,000 miles on the clock, extremely respectable for a Late Malaise Era car that probably got hooned every day of its life.
This car is fairly straight, a bit of rust but nothing too terrible. Looks like somebody grabbed the seats right away, perhaps the same BMW aficionado that picked this nearby 2002 clean.

16 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1983 BMW 320 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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