Detroit 2013: BMW’s Chest-Thumping Press Conference

BMW’s press conference at this year’s North American International Auto Show was short on specifics and long on generalities about the success of the company. Not that BMW doesn’t have reason to thump its chest a little. Ludwig Willisch, head of BMW North America, opened the press conference by reminding us that 2012 was BMW’s best year ever in North America, with 347,000 vehicles sold, making them the leader in the luxury car segment for the second year running.  They also sold 1.85 million vehicles worldwide last year, with sales up almost 11 percent. The company seems to be saying, “Recession? What recession?”

With that out of the way, BMW proceeded to show us several vehicles, starting with its newest 3-series, the 320i. The 320i is the new price-leader 3-series, with a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder making 180 hp. It will start at $33,445, and, according to Dr. Herbert Diess, member of BMW’s Board of Management, it is “a perfect car to drive in the U.S., offering an unbeatable blend of design, sportiness, and low emissions.  We are the first car company to offer the LTE mobile internet standard.”  And with that, the car was driven off the stand.

Similar short shrift was given to the 328i xDrive Sport Wagon and the Z4, which now comes with a retractable hard top that can be raised and lowered at speeds up to 25 mph. Interestingly, Dr. Diess spent more time talking about a car that they didn’t bring out at the press conference, the i3, a coupe version of which was shown in Los Angeles in November. After the press conference, the i3 Coupe could be spied parked at the far corner of the show stand.

The two cars that got the splashiest treatment in Detroit were the M6 Gran Coupe, which drove onto the stand dressed in a matte-finish silver paint that nicely complemented its styling, and the Concept 4-series Coupe. The M6 Grand Coupe was enjoying its world premiere in Detroit, but we reported on the specifics a few weeks back. Larger air intakes and a kidney grill created exclusively for this car differentiate the M version from the regular 6-series Grand Coupe, as does its 4.4-liter V-8 that produces 560 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque. It will be available as a 2014 model.

Last up was the Concept 4-series Coupe which, according to marketing chief Ian  Robertson is “like no vehicle we’ve ever created.” If, that is, you don’t count all the prior 3-series coupes. Other than getting an even-numbered badge, the 3-series is differentiated in that it gets an extended wheelbase, a different grille, and hexagonal LED headlights. The interior is trimmed in natural chesnut wood and sustainably tanned leather, which covers the seats in a braided pattern that is reminiscent of the “baseball mitt” leather that we’ve seen previously in the Audi TT.

At Detroit this year, BMW made up for what it lacked in details with quantity, showing us 5 vehicles. By its own count, BMW introduced 14 new (with a fairly broad definition of “new”) vehicles last year, and with the several vehicles they showed at the North American International Auto Show, it looks like they are continuing to hone their offerings for the U.S. market.

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