BMW of the 70s was a much different company than the BMW of 2011. BMW had two platforms, the ‘New class’ including the famous 1600 sedan and 2002 coupe and the ‘New six’ which featured the larger 3.0 sedan and 3.0CSi coupes. Basically four product lines, with different engines, equipment and suspension gear within the model range. BMW didn’t even have any dealers in North America until sales of the independently imported 2002 were far better than expected. Apparently people loved the idea of sporty four seaters!
By the end of the 70s BMW had renumbered to their now iconic schema: the New class was forked into the 3-series and 5-series, the New six forked into the 6-series and 7-series. Starting with the E21 3-series compact coupes and sedans, the E12 5-series mid-sized sedan, the E24 6-series coupe, and the E23 7-series full sized sedan. The BMW brand began to grow.
Things changed over times. Everything grew. The 6-series was once a 7-series coupe, but when it was reintroduced in 2004, it was a 5-series coupe. BMW released a few sports cars, the M1 at the end of the 70s, the Z1 at the end of the 80s, the 8-series (a 7-series coupe again) in the 90s, the Z3 at the end of the 90s, and the Z4 in the early 2000s. BMW remained true to its target market the entire time, the best handling and thusly most enjoyable drives in their markets. The 3-series sedan and coupe was always BMWs bread and butter, the popularity and sales of BMW was at an all time high.
The BMW brand is one of the most valuable brands in the world, automotive or otherwise, so you can’t blame BMW for wanting to expand their brand. It began in the early 2000s with the X5, the least sporty car BMW had ever built. It sold gangbusters. Go forward 10 years and BMW sells an X1, an X3, an X5 and an X6 and a 5-series GT (yet another crossover thing) all cars panned by BMW’s original driver centric market. The X6 is a “sports coupe” that weighs as much as a small bus with a center of gravity to match, they even make an M model (remember when the M badge represented a car built, even just engineered by BMW M and not just shit bolted on?), what a joke… As of 2011 BMW now sells 11 distinct lines in our market…
Things looked good when BMW released the 1-series coupe in the North American market. A smaller (though not nearly light enough) sportier car at a lower price point, and as of 2011 BMW even has a 1-series M coupe. Perhaps there is hope after all? Perhaps not. Seems BMW wants to redefine the 1-series brand already. They intend to fork the 1-series coupe we know as the 2-series (more on that later) by 2013, and relaunch the 1-series as a front-wheel drive car (i.e. a stretched Mini platform) to be better aligned with the Audi A3. Thats right BMW is going to sell a front wheel drive car under the BMW brand. Why? Because the BMW brand is worth its weight in platinum, and a BMW badged Mini will sell better and for a higher price than a Mini badged one.
Next up is BMW’s decision to rebrand the 3-series coupe as the 4-series… That’s right, the car known as the 3-series coupe since 1975 will now be called the 4-series. Why? Not entirely sure. The 3-series coupe has always demanded a premium price over the sedan, and maybe BMW wants to give warm fuzzies to the brainless luxury target market they so love for spending an extra $10k to lose 2 doors and gain a better suspension… This action will ruin any residuals on existing 3-series coupes, confuse customers and obliterates 35+ years of heritage.
BMW? Do you remember what made your cars better than the cheaper, more reliable Lexus of the 90s? They were fun to drive. Why are so many 3, 5, 7 and all the X cars 4WD now?
BMW? Do you remember what made your cars better than the cheaper and faster Infiniti’s of the 2000s? They were more fun to drive. Why are you releasing a FWD 1-series and telling my the X6 is the evolution of the sports car?
Here’s the thing BMW, you are losing what made your brand awesome. I know things are doing great now, BMWs are selling better than ever. I can’t blame a company trying to obtain more money, that is their obligation to their shareholders. The problem is, the further you get away from what made you awesome, the closer you get to the competition. Look at cars up until the 200s, Audi made the most utterly boring cars on the planet, but have you seen the new S5? Gorgeous! Merc made slushy luxury cars, but look at the current C-class, and of course C63 AMG and SLS AMG, I mean come on! Fantastic cars. Look at Lexus, king of the sofas on wheels, they even have an M3 fighter in the IS-F… Infiniti is slowly eating out the bottom of the 3/C/A4 segment too, offering near 335i performance at 128i prices.
The further BMW gets away from its roots, the closer the competition seems to get to BMWs roots. The brand won’t stay strong on its own forever. This current obsession with 10+ distinct product lines has been tried before, look at what happened to all the American brands… Amusingly of all of the current 11 product lines, there isn’t a single car I like as much as the BMW I have and the one I had before that… Sure you can blame the fuel economy movement for the boring-up of the new M5 and M6 and surely the next M3s… How long before a 4WD M5 or even M3… Might as well buy an RS5 at that point, it certainly looks better!
Enough with the rant, I’ll leave you this video of Chris Harris slinging the new 1-series M and the Cayman R around. Enjoy!