BMW wagon for families, not racing

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BAYERISCHE Motoren Werke AG (BMW AG) will test its self-proclaimed image as the maker of the “ultimate driving machine” with a wagon designed more for parents picking up children at school than for zipping along the autobahn.

The van-like 2-Series Gran Tourer offers rear seats that fold down for more storage and space for as many as seven passengers. The €26,950 (RM109,621)-vehicle, which debuted last week at the Geneva International Motor Show, challenges BMW’s fans by emphasising family-oriented functionality over the flair of stablemates like the M5 performance sedan.

“It’s a fairly frumpy car,” said Tim Urquhart, an analyst at IHS Automotive. “The compact seven-seater is a pretty small market, and it’s already pretty well populated by the likes of Ford Motor Co’s Grand C-Max, Renault SA’s Grand Scenic and GM’s Opel Zafira Tourer in Europe.”

With Audi and Mercedes-Benz closing the gap on BMW’s sales lead, the world’s biggest luxury-car brand is under pressure to woo customers aside from affluent executives. That means pushing into segments BMW once shunned and compromising its focus on acceleration and handling.

“We’re broadening our appeal,” Ian Robertson, BMW’s sales chief, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “We’re bringing in new customers to the brand, and ultimately, they will probably progress into other BMWs in the family.”

What amounts to the first BMW van is aimed at offsetting demand declines of ageing models such as the top-end 7-Series sedan. The brand’s deliveries are likely to rise by just 4% this year, about half the growth rate predicted for its two German competitors, according to Bankhaus Metzler.

“We expect to grow our sales during this year and of course the brand has a very, very broad spectrum now,” said Robertson. “We intend to maintain our position and be the world’s leading provider of premium automobiles.”

The Gran Tourer boasts as much as 1.9 cu m of storage and marks the debut of a BMW smartphone application called myKidio that allows the driver to control the videos that back-seat passengers can watch on linked-up tablet computers.

After favouring sportier rear-wheel drive, the brand has now introduced a second vehicle with the engine power directed to the front wheels. The first was the smaller 2-Series Active Tourer, which came out last year and is geared mainly toward older drivers.

When it comes to space, it’s new territory for Munich-based BMW and raises concerns that the brand’s veering too far from its roots in performance-oriented vehicles.

Dave Flogaus, co-vice president of the Philadelphia-area Delaware Valley chapter of the BMW Car Club of America, said: “One way or the other, it’s is a bold move.”

The standard version of the Gran Tourer, priced about 15% more than competing models, will reach European showrooms in June. The company has no current plans for a US release date. — Bloomberg

BMW-AG

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on March 9, 2015.