BMW boss wants more U.S. inventory

Ludwig Willisch: "Our plants are at full capacity. It's just a question of who gets what."

Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
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NEW ORLEANS -- Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW of North America, would like to add a big crossover to his lineup one day, but his main concern is getting enough of what BMW already builds.

Willisch told the J.D. Power International Automotive Roundtable here that one of his biggest challenges is lobbying corporate headquarters in Munich for more vehicles to sell.

"Our plants are at full capacity," he said Friday. "It's just a question of who gets what."

BMW wants to top its U.S. sales record of 376,790 units in 2013 for its BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce brands. That requires him to plead for more of BMW's total production to wind up in this market, Willisch says.

Even the i3 compact electric vehicle could be in short supply. Willisch said he only expects sales of about 2,000 this year, although there have been 100,000 hand-raisers for the car, which was developed as part of BMW's Megacity Project to create sustainable vehicles.

Asked if he was worried about not getting enough i3s, Willisch said, "Yes, in a way I am. I'm trying to get enough cars for the U.S. The U.S. will be the biggest i market in the world.

"Will we get enough cars in the first year? Probably not. But that's a good problem to have."

He said at the event that BMW will offer lease deals that are comparable to "a normally spec'd 3 series." Base price for the i3 is $42,275, including shipping.

He is also seeking a larger crossover for the United States: "Obviously, there is room above the X5. Why shouldn't we be able to cover that room with a BMW?"

But Willisch added that a big crossover is unlikely to arrive in the near future.

In response to an audience question, Willisch said there is a limit to how far automakers can go to complete car-buying transactions online. Dealers could take orders online, he said. But BMW wants its new-style stores, with open showrooms, BMW "genius" product experts and video screens to configure vehicles, to be appealing places for young tech-savvy shoppers to browse.

"We want to have that emotional encounter with the brand at the dealership or on the test drive, so there's a limit," Willisch said.

Still, he says, he knows personally that young shoppers are impatient with the slow-moving, high-pressure traditional sales process: "I have very special research in the home because I have a 26-year-old son."

You can reach Dave Guilford at dguilford@crain.com. -- Follow Dave on


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