Slow sales of the new 5 series last month and a switch by some X3 buyers to the X5 have analysts wondering whether BMW is trying to do too much too fast.
The automaker is juggling four launches in six months, the biggest deluge of product in its history.
BMW recently replaced the high-volume 5 series and face-lifted the X5 SUV. It also is launching the smaller X3 SUV and preparing to bring out a new 6-series coupe and convertible.
But there are marketing issues to settle. The X3 has about the same amount of interior space as the X5 and is in the 3-series price range. Meanwhile, BMW executives have long worried about 5-series/X5 cannibalization and whether the new 6 series could lure people out of the 5 and 7 series.
The lower year-on-year sales of the 4-month-old 5 series in January raised eyebrows. The X3 is off to a good start, but there are concerns that it will overlap with the X5. Dealers say some buyers who ordered the X3 decided not to wait several months for the small SUV and bought an X5 instead.
BMW executives insist that the four new models won't muddle its image or cannibalize sales. "Every product is quite different than the other, and that gave us an ability to do differentiation in marketing and positioning," says James McDowell, vice president of marketing for BMW of North America.
BMW is trying to make the brand more affordable while reaching into even higher price segments, says Susan Jacobs, a consultant in New Jersey who follows the luxury market.
"Part of the product strategy is to maintain the appeal with the baby boomers at the top end and to broaden their appeal to the baby boom echo, households now under 25 years old."
Jim Walker, owner of Kenneth Hammersley BMW in Lynchburg, Va., says, "The X3 in particular is in a unique segment and priced on the money."
Walker says he has sold three X3s and has orders for six more. He says he usually sells only 15 BMWs a month.
The new 5 series debuted last fall with a controversial rear-end design and a simplified version of the iDrive controls for climate, navigation and entertainment. Both were modifications of divisive elements on the 7 series.
Peter Schmidt, an analyst with research group Automotive Industry Data in London, says the controversial styling could limit 5-series demand.