Though BMW sales are down five percent year-on-year, the brand remains confident it is doing well enough and will have a decent 2017.
FIVE will be the prime number for BMW next year, but not simply because the new-generation of the brand’s medium car is arriving.
While it sees the new 5-Series sedan (right) arriving around March as being of special importance, the Mt Wellington operation nonetheless believes that a familiar reliable, the X5, will continue as the volume linchpin simply because, as spokesman Paul Sherley acknowledges, “that’s where the market is heading.”
“The new Five Series is a very important car to us and to BMW globally in terms of what the brand can do in respect to technology, from a luxury point of view and from a driving dynamics point of view as well.
“It still is a very relevant car and a showcase,” he said, adding that while local specifications and pricing are still being worked through, it seems likely NZ will see the car in a four-wheel-drive format that is being availed for the first time in right-hand drive as well as the traditional rear drive layout.
Nonetheless, though the addition of an XDrive Five will add to allure, it seems likely impending X-badged softroader fare has greater potential for achieving higher sales count, given the ever-increasing local (and global) interest in crossovers, not least in luxury formats.
Coming out over the next 18 months are a new small model, the X2 - in the same sports coupe styling that already comes in X4 and X6 formats – the next generation X3 and the long-awaited large SUV, the X7.
However, because none are set to show here in 2017 – not even the X3, regardless that it launches internationally in the third quarter – it will be up to the brand’s top seller of the past four years, the X5, to again lead the way in 2017.
The model has just under a local market freshen that is likely to represent a final rejig, with expectation – that Sherley will not comment on – that it has around two more years of production, with a replacement set to show up after BMW has put the X7 into market.
“It still has a few years to go and we are very comfortable where it is at and where it is going. The latest changes made to the line are going to keep it at the top of its game.
The potential for X5 being bumped as the brand sales favourite in 2017 were not high, he agreed.
“It will continue to be very, very popular.”
At present, the X models – which, aside from X5, also include the X1, X3, X4 and X6 - cumulatively achieve more than 40 percent of BMW volume, and the incoming extra derivatives X will surely only strengthen that swing.
However, Sherley argues that BMW will never become a SUV-prioritised marque, saying the brand’s model spread is too broad for that to occur.
“It’s not going to primarily be an SUV brand but we are intent on making sure that we have the right models and the right portfolio for our market. With SUVs being so popular it makes a lot of sense to have these models in our range, where applicable.”
BMW NZ’s expectations about how 2017 will go for it are not being discussed, but it will likely hope it to pick up from this year’s quiet pace.
As things stand, even though the car market as a whole in buoyant, the luxury sector this year has reflected a definite swing away in favour of Mercedes Benz, mostly at BMW’s expense.
Benz looks set to romp home to its second successive year of market dominance while BMW, which up until 2014 only ever had to squabble over top dog rights with Audi, is set at best to be runnerup in 2016, as Benz had a 500-unit advantage – the equivalent of two months’ sales – by the end of October. Does it also concern, though, the BMW sales are down five percent year-on-year, there is conjecture if will even equal last year’s count of 1952 sales.
What’s been the problem – and what’s the solution?
“I don’t think there has been a problem, as such,” says Sherley. “We are very much focused on our internal targets and running our own race. We are comfortable with how the year has gone.
“It’s always nice being No.1 but at the same time we are focused on our business as a sustainable business.”
Internationally, BMW has promised to push harder with its electric and eDrive series of plug-in hybrid cars, with intent to ramp up global volume by two-thirds to 100,000 vehicles – a big target given that it equals the total sales of battery-powered BMW models since 2013.
Even though there is intention to add an electric Mini and X3 by the end of the decade, those models won’t be here in 2017, so again the onus falls on the i3 EV and the plug-in i8 and battery-assisted versions of the 2-,3-,5- and 7-Series cars, plus the X5.
Although Sherley argues that the i3 has been a good seller here, the volume is still slight, and it certainly has not achieved the international targets, with just 25,000 sold worldwide this year. The brand hopes a 50 percent increase in battery range for the pure electric version of the car will enhance its credibility. The emergent interest in EVs in New Zealand, spurred in part by Tesla’s announced intention to begin retail sales here in early 2017, is also likely to keep i3 in the spotlight here, Sherley contends.
Meantime, the introduction of fresh cosmetic touches and more driver assistance technology to the X5 comes three years after the current model was launched.
All variants pick up a new vehicle information/infotainment technology and bigger, 26cm touchscreen that debuted on last year’s 7-Series sedan.
The entry-level xDrive25d ($109,000) picks up driver aids in the form of lane-change warning and a 360deg camera system, along with cosmetic changes that include 19-inch alloys, chrome window surrounds, aluminium roof rails, and body-coloured highlights.
One up from the 25d is the 30d ($129,900), which adds active cruise control and stop-start to its technology package. The xDrive40d ($139,900), 40e ($149,900), 50i ($161,000), M50d ($164,900) also get similar upgrades, adding traffic sign recognition to the head-up display.
The top-range X5 M ($202,900) gets all of the above and also now takes as standard the previously optional multifunctional sports seats.
Development of the next generation X5, meantime, is at the stage where test mules are being spotted in Europe. It and the X7 will use a new lightweight platform also shared with the latest 7-Series, which arrived earlier this year.
In addition to the new Five Series, BMW also intends to launch the next-gen mini Countryman locally during 2017.