MUNICH -- Detailed information about the next-generation BMW 3 series was released prematurely this month, but the German luxury carmaker isn't too concerned.
BMW is known for keeping tight control over sensitive information and the leak of a draft customer brochure on the Internet appeared out of line with the company's usual procedures.
"The finely tuned strategy to unveil the car has come tumbling down," a BMW source says. But the company is not going to change its marketing strategy for the important new model.
Other automakers are watching closely. They know that, in the Internet age, which lets anyone publish information worldwide almost instantly, leaks can happen easily.
"I think any company will keep it in mind and hope it doesn't happen to them," says a DaimlerChrysler spokesman.
An Audi spokesman says: "You can always have somebody out there who will do something like this."
The new 3 series will be introduced early 2005 and official publicity wasn't supposed to have started until much later this year.
The brochure was published on the website of respected German news magazine Der Spiegel after being posted on several auto fan websites in Germany and the US. It contained pictures plus engine and equipment data for the 3 series.
Competitors wonder if the leak was intentional. They say details of a new model aren't usually printed in brochure form at such an early stage, plus the timing threatens to steal some of the limelight from a major rival.
BMW denies this. "It's lamentable that we have pictures floating about when the current model is still such a strong seller," says BMW spokesman Wieland Bruch.
Still, the information started appearing on the Internet about the same time that Audi mailed out its invitations for the press launch of the A4, the 3 series' top rival in the lower-premium segment.
The A4 will be shown at the Paris auto show next month and goes on sale later this year.
The new 3 series represents more than a third of BMW's annual unit sales. It is the company's biggest-selling model.
iDrive is optional in the new 3 series.
A BMW dealer near Cologne, Germany, agrees. "The average customer is not as savvy as you may think. We suspect most will not even be aware of the leak," he says.
Georg Stürzer, an analyst at HypoVereinsbank in Munich, believes that, at most, the prematurely released information will hurt the four-door sedan, the first to be replaced in early 2005.
"Having the pictures out is not very critical," he says.
Automakers traditionally release some small teaser details about a new model first, then make selected photographs available. Then they hold an official press launch.
A properly executed launch is especially important when a model is as important as the 3 series is to BMW. The current model, BMW's best-selling car, is expected to account for about 36 percent, or E14.8 billion, of the premium automaker's E41.2 billion in BMW brand sales in 2004, according to estimates by HypoVereinsbank in Munich.
The BMW group, including Mini and Rolls-Royce, is expected to have sales of E44.7 billion.
The leaked brochure reveals some surprises about the new 3 series. For example, a second dashboard will be available that includes a screen, which is needed to operate the carmaker's controversial iDrive system. The current 3 series does not have the iDrive.
The 3 series will be the first BMW diesel to have a particulate filter as standard equipment.