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BMW M finds the right gear

Performance brand aims for 20,000 unit sales in 2004

Munich. The lean times at BMW M GmbH are over.

When Ulrich Bruhnke left rival AMG in December 2003 to become CEO, BMW's high-performance brand sold only the M3.

The M5 and M6 were still under development and a supercar existed only as a 1/43 scale model.

The company had to make it through 2004 with sales of 14,000 M3 units. In addition, it sold 20,000 customized vehicles and 80,000 sport packages.

"We shouldn't be volume-oriented," Bruhnke said. "But we want to grow and be the market leader in our segment."

With the M5 and M6 vehicles, available since April, the company is only now targeting the 20,000-unit level reached in 2003.

BMW M isn't releasing exact figures, but it expects to hit that mark in 2006 at the latest.

Bruhnke said the U.S. market will get the M5 and M6 late this year and will account for about half the vehicles' sales, making American customers especially important to the company.

Some "hard-core U.S. fans" will get manual-transmission versions of the 507-horsepower M5 and M6, Bruhnke said. But he is ruling out an M model based on the 1 series.

The base model will not be sold in the United States, eliminating "half its potential sales," he said. There also will be no SUV from BMW M.

"A high-torque, naturally aspirated engine with manual transmission is part of the M car philosophy," he said. "That doesn't fit an off-roader."

Back in 2004, BMW M was still denying that an M5 Touring model would be built, citing the lack of interest among U.S. customers.

Today prototypes of this high-performance wagon are doing test laps.

"The return on equity of our cars must be on the same level as BMW production vehicles," Bruhnke said. "That is only possible with the multiple usage of parts and equipment."

The M cars' sophisticated V-10 drivetrain has to be built in long production runs to amortize its high development costs.

Bruhnke is not leaning toward a supercar similar to the Mercedes SLR. "We can build a vehicle that is superior to the other concepts, but this is not a priority right now," he said.

Meanwhile, the small plastic toy from 2003 has grown up into a full-sized model. Bruhnke would only say "we are keeping an eye on the supercar segment."

Tags: Automakers BMW

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