Editorial: Reality Check

2011 BMW 5 Series

Anger and frustration have come to many of our readers with the realization that BMWNA will not be offering us the new F11 5 Series Sports Wagon (even possibly the next 3er version F31). To enthusiasts and to those that like a car with substance, practicality and looks; BMW not offering this all wrapped in one package is tough to chew on.

Since our creation of this site some two years ago it has been quite apparent that we are enthusiast oriented (intentionally) and thatthe overwhelming majority of our readership is passionate and well educated when it comes to vehicles, their needs and how different the BMW experience is from everything else out there.

Once in a while we all need a reality check; for better or for worse. Today we are starting the day off with a little humility towards those at BMWNA who are responsible for making the hard decisions of what and what not to offer. Most of us do not see the reason for the wagons exiting the market to be all that transparent- there are thousands that would buy wagons, no?

The reality of the situation is that the vast majority of Americans are not enthusiasts, have little brand loyalty and purchase vehicles like they are appliances by mainly relying on the Consumer Reports bubble charts or solely on looks. The amazing thing is that many of these consumers do find our site and others like it to ask questions about future car purchases. All I know is that I name my cars (they are family) and never have or never will give my dishwasher a name so to me the concept of cars being appliances is quite foreign. I do not blindly stay within the brand but also know (from driving/researching competitors offerings) there are very few cars that exceed BMWs product line.

The following question (a similar one was also emailed to us) was asked of Jonathan Welsh at the Wall Street Journal

Q: I am currently driving a BMW 535. This is my third BMW and I am ready for a change. One of the problems with the BMW is the lack of leg room in the back seat. I am 6 ‘2 ” so I also need room up front. Can you suggest a sedan that offers more legroom? I am looking at the Hyundai Genesis.

Reading this question helped me realize that BMWNA is not so far off in some of their product decisions (and the reason I offer it up today). I question the logic one must use to even consider going from a BMW to a Hyundai based solely on leg room. This question drives home the point that people seem to care more about the number of cup holders and leg room than how the car holds the road or the engineering prowess of the brand.

What we also know is that the F10 5 Series has grown a bit to offer more rear leg room so to the person that posed this question should be able to stay in a BMW 5 Series, and it is completely a new design (if they so choose). Thanks to BMW meeting the needs of the main consumer base our cars have grown to the dismay of us enthusiasts. Is the growth and softening of the brand really BMW ‘s fault or is it the clueless American consumer ‘s? I for one over the last year have gained a better understanding of the market and see what BMW(NA) must compete with from both buyers and the competition- I do not envy their situation and they are doing an admirable job in my humble opinion by offering the majority products they (the “masses “) desire and giving us versions that are more in-tune to our enthusiast wants and needs.

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  • Mark

    I think the economy and price/demand has a lot to do with BMWNA’s decision. The wagons are a niche product — Americans view them more as utilitarian and why would one pay so much to get a BMW wagon when they can get an SUV (non-X5 or X6) for much less? I’d also guess that BMWNA wants to steer Americans into the X cars, perhaps because of higher profit margins.

    There’s plenty of logic to choose a car based on legroom (it’s a car!), but the person who wrote to Welsh cited lack of legroom as only one reason for going to a BMW to a Hyundai. And don’t knock on Hyundais — the Genesis is a fantastic car that costs 30-40% less than a 5er. It’s not as sporty but is very comparable.

  • G2

    It’s very sad but BMW is striving to be a big company that needs profit margin. A bigger, non enthusiast, market generally equals higher profits. My last hope is the new M1. I think my e46m3 will be the newest model I will buy. Anything after that is too heavy, too expensive and just not fun to drive.

  • Mark- I am not directly knocking the Genesis- it is a fine mass produced vehicle, it however is not worthy of being mentioned in the same breathe as the 5. The drive, the feel and level of materials used are not even close, there is a huge difference- a Passat and the Genesis I can see being cross shopped but not the 5 and it; different levels of refinement and sport. The Genesis is a good bang for the buck but is it anything more?

    -M

  • Joe

    Michael, You’re hitting it squarely in the middle of the clubface (golf season is nearly upon us!) I find the BF point of view to be rare: That of the hard core enthusiast with maturity and perspective. I don’t mean to offend, but if one thinks its sad that BMW is striving to make a margin, then one is clueless. Too many enthusiasts on the interwebs are spoiled babies that think BMW is somehow there just to cater to their purist dreams. If BMW was not a financially successful company, investors would not give it capital for R&D, capital projects like factories, the Welt, etc, which would lead to degredation in competive position, and on and on. But, the point must be maid, and BF makes it articulately. Like Martin B. said (to be besf of my recollection) in the BF interview, ‘you guys keep us honest.’

    And by the way, Jonathan Welsh is the worst car journalist that I actually read regularly.

  • Michael- Great post! It does always amaze me when I hear about people going from a BMW anything to a much different car from another manufacturer. You hit the nail on the head, IMHO, about how very few people buy a BMW for their passion towards the cars, engineering, etc. I have the 135i and in order to get it in a manual, I had to order it. My salesman said that here in Chicago that roughly 10% of the BMW’s their dealership sells are manual. Amazes me.

    I experienced the lack of passion when my wife (fiance at the time) was in need of a new car. I had her test drive a 3-series and she was like “it’s too stiff and rough”. OMGosh was my thought, I joked that the engagement was off! Her criteria was very simple, can she see the hood of the car and the back of the car in the rear view mirror, did it have leather and enough pep from the engine for lane changes, etc. That was it. She chose the Acura TSX which has been very reliable with a low cost to maintain. But whenever I drive it, there is no emotion or excitement at all. It’s her car however and she’s happy.

    Great post Michael.

  • Chuck

    I think that people are seeing cars some along that are a long way from where they used to be, the parent brand of the Genesis, for example, is one of these brands. My guess is that all the leg room in the world would not make this car acceptable to someone who has had a BMW, not to mention 3. Over the years, BMW has grown the car (and the brand) but leg room did not seem to be an issue for his 2nd or 3rd cars. So, why now change? Maybe this is the justification for moving into a lesser brand (NO KNOCK AGAINST HYUNDAI)and not spending the extra $20,000. Maybe he has a child going to college and that $20,000 might pay for a year or two. So, why not blame BMW?

    The other issue, the wagon, BMW only needs to only build the cars that people want and people will buy. I LOVE wagons and was hoping that my next BMW would be a wagon. I’ve owned E30, E36, E46, E90 and leased a Cooper and Cooper S. So, I’ll either buy an X or a non-BMW.

    CA

  • TMQ

    BMW’s marketing and brand is about the driving experience. If their products don’t live to that perception, then it’s going to be a problem. However, that doesn’t mean every buyer of BMW cares about or appreciates the performance/handling. Some buy it simply for the Roundel.

    To GSKChicago, Acura TSX is quite a fine sports sedan that out-handles many other cars on the road. Just because it’s not a BMW doesn’t mean it lacks excitement. The 3 series with run-flat tires are rough especially in the city with potholes. And don’t forget that to most drivers in the U.S., long-term reliability is an important factor. Who says you can’t have a fun and reliable car?

  • RJ

    Personally, I’ve always been a bit annoyed with the lack of rear legroom in BMW, Audi, M-B….the list goes on.

    Luckily, no trouble with rear legroom in my BMW…Z3 3.0 Coupe. Front legroom and comfort is another thing… 🙂

  • chas58

    You see this some in the BMW club too – two completely different types of customers.

    1) Who purchase solely on style and comfort (and easily leaves BMW based on legroom Runflat tires, or even lack of a dipstick (so they say). 2 )Those who are loyal to a performance car and expect BMW to be the ultimate driving machine.

    Most of the market probably falls into #1. BMW can keep #2 satisfied by coming out with special models and performance parts like the ‘is’ and ‘///M’ models. What is missing is an entry level performance car.

    Personally, I like performance, and think simpler and lighter is better. No turbos, no AWD, no DCT, minimal electronics. In my case I have to buy a base car and mod it myself (which is fortunately easy to do with lots of options). BMW could certainly get a younger crowd in with a performance oriented relatively inexpensive car. There is a huge difference between the typical Mini and BMWCCA club members, and BMW is missing that piece by concentrating on the older audience of a BMW X6 rather than the Mini drivers who may want the playfulness an d fun to drive of a Mini when they shop for a new car. A 328i with AWD and AT is a quiet, safe and boring car that is more Toyota like than what I expect of BMW.

  • Mark

    Michael — I could not agree with you more that not bringing wagons to the US is a bad idea. I would rather have a 325i wagon than a Genesis any day. But perhaps the person who wrote to Welsh has come to value space over sportiness, and that’s his right. Like I said, I think BMWNA’s decision to shelf the wagons for the US is about demand (or lack thereof) for wagons.

    I think the Welsh example does not squarely support your point, but I get it nonetheless. But I think you may be a bit harsh on the Genesis. It is trying to compete with the 5er, E Class, and LS’s at a much lower price. Even though it may fall far short of those, the Genesis still is a fine car and a great value.

  • Mike

    Wait, M3 and M5 are niche products. How many BMW NA does sell? Anyway, point of wagon is practicality and BMW NA loses it. It shoots itself in a foot and then complains that it hurts. E61 is priced above X5. Why? X5 diesel get government rebate while there is no 530d xDrive in US. Hitch for some reason is not available in US which exactly same car is fine for towing and hitch mount bike carrier in Europe.

    It’s all BMW NA fault. Nothing else.

  • Mike- The wagons cost significantly more to build (they are built in Germany and had an EXPENSIVE aluminum front clip) while the Xs are built in the good old US of A. The 5 Series wagon was one of (if not the) model(s) with the smallest sales figures. They sell significantly more ///M cars. There is no trailer hitch in the US because it would require crash testing- and to offset that the price of the hitch would be so expensive nobody would buy it- It is not like they just chose not to offer it because they did not feel like it. There are a lot of things that require gov’t tests (at $250k- $1mil a pop) that people are just not aware of. If they sell 400 wagons a year, and say 25% want the hitch (the roof rack is fine for bikes- I used to race XC) they sell 100 a year for 7 years- for a total of 700 units are they really going to spend $250K to crash test the thing? NO as they would cost about $3k each and then no one would buy them (period). Same reason we do not see the BMW Performance seats- the gov’t make sure we are safe and it costs money for the manufactuers.

    The Diesel tax rebate is not that big (Less than $1500)- What most seem to think is the “Eco Credit” ($4500) is from the government- when it really is just from BMWNA as an incentive (marketing wizards doing a good job), they basically are cutting themselves out of any profit on Diesels to get more out the door. We have gone on in great lengths why there are only two Advanced Diesels offered in the US (2 best selling models) and why the 35d was chosen (search diesel).

    In the end BMWNA is in business and unlike some other companies that have run themselves into the ground and are now owned by taxpayers- BMWNA is doing just fine and seem to be making good decisions based on their portfolio and bottom line

    -M

  • Que

    It sad when Caddy and Acura are bring wagons for the CTS, and TSX to the north american market, to keep up with the Germans makers having them in their portfolio, and BMW is pulling out. Makes no sense. Wagons are making a come back!

  • Mike

    It is all interesting but it does not invalidate my point. First of all, they used to sell about 2000 wagons. Second – they made wrong choices that’s it. No need to crash test additional models – test one, properly selected. 535 without a hitch was wrong choice. Interestingly enough, most Volvo or VW wagons are sold with lower end engine or diesel. I am not surprised that they sell like 1% of 3 series with diesel. RWD with most powerful diesel is wrong choice – they’d sell much more 320/325d I bet, especially with AWD.

    BTW I am not interested in roof mounts – I can’t enter my garage or my company underground parking with bikes on the roof.

    I wonder how many X6M they sell.

  • MIke- Your logic is missing the big picture, and comparing BMW to Volvo and VW is not even close- they are not independent and can absorb things through their parent company (you’ll see volvo begin to make BMW like decisions). There are so few people that would want a hitch there is no point to offering it- you can only tow a small trailer with the car and the number of people that need a hitch mount for bikes is even fewer so making everyone buy the wagon with the added cost of the hitch would make it even more expensive and out of the reach of even more people. The reason the larger engine was offered only on the 5 wagon because that is what the previous generations numbers sold with- BMWNA had offered several engines in the past (along with RWD only) and the numbers said people wanted the larger I6, not the V8 and AWD.

    Trust me I wish BMW could offer every person their ideal car but when it comes down to it they need to make decisions for the masses. During my NYC commute I see maybe one bike hitch mount per day a midst one of the most congested areas in the country so you are well in the minority though you have a good reason to desire such a setup- there is always the option to order the part (if it is in the system the dealer can order it). It is also worth noting that BMWNA does not offer hitches for any car based model if memory serves me correctly.

  • Mike

    I am not comparing to VW/Volvo based on cost – I am comparing on what typical wagon buyer typically chooses.

    Now, past data is not valid for the future – otherwise people would still be getting 12 mpg monster SUVs. Times change. Who would buy Prius in 1995?

    And bike is not for commuting to work – you are missing the point. I may want to go biking after work with my daughter or keep bikes mounted on the car over the weekend rather than load and unload them all the time. Hitch is not for towing – it is for mounting bike carrier.

    I still think they make weird decisions. X6 Hybrid is one example. X5M is another.

    Companies are actually stopping making decision based on pure monetary basis. There is also perception and reputation which is difficult to gain and very easy to lose. See http://www.leftlanenews.com/report-vw-board-votes-to-ax-porsche-cayenne-panamera.html – excellent choice. Besides what is in the article, there was a quote that producing SUVs while making money seriously damaged company perception in Europe.

    I wish BMW would think the same. I understand what you have been saying – but the age or uncontrolled money making capitalism is over. As it ended for tobacco companies some time ago. Cars and anything directly related to fossil fuels are next in line.

  • goat

    I know that I’m chiming in somewhat late in the game here but wanted to add that this was an excellent editorial to read and see discussed. The age-old frustration of “those who know better” and “the ignorant masses”. Sounds quite elitist I agree but it really does come down to that… I have always thought that the best products and best designs are those where the engineers / artists had free reign. Those products/designs would “find their customer/audience”, and resonate deeply with that customer/audience. It does seem a losing battle though with more design being conducted via focus group and the inevitable catering to the LCD (Lowest Common Denominator). Anyway, good to see this kind of discussion here!

  • Mike

    On the other news

    Volkswagen of America, Inc. reported that clean diesels made up 85 percent of the 2,018 Jetta SportWagens sold in March. The load lugger’s sales were up 78.9 percent year-on-year in March. Overall, the company’s March 2010 sales rose 40.9 percent year-on-year to 22,148 total units – its ninth consecutive month of sales growth.

    http://green.autoblog.com/2010/04/05/85-of-jetta-sportwagens-sold-in-march-were-diesel-powered/

    So someone can sell them… 2000 a month… with diesel and only 170hp.