GENEVA -- BMW's announcement that it will add two model lines heats up a battle among Germany's premium carmakers in the so-called crossover segments.
One of the BMW model lines will be an SUV/coupe crossover targeted at the Porsche Cayenne. The other is a multipurpose vehicle targeted at the Mercedes-Benz R class. The R class goes on sale in Europe this summer.
Both of the new BMWs are due in three years.
BMW's move didn't surprise Audi CEO Martin Winterkorn. During an interview at the Geneva auto show he said, "Customers want cars that sit higher, are roomier and have a sports design."
Winterkorn added that Audi could build a crossover variant of the next-generation A4 lower-premium model. This would be in addition to the A4-based Audi Q5 SUV, due in late 2007, which will compete against the BMW X3.
Audi will introduce its first SUV at the IAA in Frankfurt in September. The Q7 shares a platform with the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, but the Audi model will be stretched to fit seven passengers.
One of BMW's two new vehicle lines will be the so-called Raum Funktionales Konzept or space-functional concept. Internally, BMW avoids the word minivan for the new model. BMW chief Helmut Panke said the new car will be built in Germany. Sources say the car will be based on a new platform for the
7 series upper-premium sedan, also due in three years. The current 7 series is built in Dingolfing alongside 5- and 6-series models.
To avoid looking like a minivan, the 2.5-box model will have a small, but clearly defined trunk.
More US production
The other new model line will be for an SUV/coupe that will be built at BMW's US plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where the Z4 roadsters and X5 SUVs are produced. Internally, the car is called the
X-Sport, a name that could be used for the production model. An alternative name is the X6. Supplier sources say BMW's annual production target for the X-Sport is 35,000 units. Insiders say the vehicle will be "coupe-like and sporty-looking."
Producing the X-Sport in the US will help lessen the effect of the strong euro against the dollar, which makes European cars sold in the US expensive.
-- Diana T. Kurylko contributed