MUNICH – BMW could expand its M range of high-performance cars into SUVs and other models.
The X5 and X3 premium SUV models are possible contenders for new M variants, as are the 5-series station wagon and the Z4 roadster.
Extending the M range would spell the end of the purist approach that the M division has followed since it launched its first car, the 1978 M1. This was a supercar co-developed with Lamborghini and styled by Italdesign Giugiaro.
Currently, BMW sells the M3, M5 and M6 – the same lineup that was available 19 years ago.
“We have great potential to go into new segments with M models,” said M division CEO Ulrich Bruhnke.
Bruhnke said the success of the X3 and X5 SUVs shows that BMW can break out of its traditional segments.
No M badge for 1-series
“If we were asked to do such a model [an M-badged SUV], I am convinced we could do it,” he said.
Bruhnke feels there is room at the top of the X5 range for an M model. The current 360hp high-performance model would not be considered for an M-badge, he said.
An M-version of the 1 series entry-premium model is unlikely, because it is not offered in the US, where half of BMW’s M models are sold, Bruhnke said.
Even with an expansion of the lineup, an M model will never be just a higher-powered BMW, said Bruhnke.
“We don’t do labeling. M models cannot be just a variation. Handling and dynamic behavior are as important as linear acceleration,” he said.
BMW’s M division employs 500 people. Between 1978 and 2004, BMW built 228,454 M models. More than 70 percent were M3 cars.
The company does not disclose the M division’s profitability. But making a profit is not the only reason for the unit’s existence.
It gives BMW cars that highlight the automaker’s core value, which is to build cars that deliver performance and agile handling.
M models also serve as a test platform for new technologies, such as carbon-fiber applications:
“We are a small experimental field for BMW,” said Bruhnke.
Bruhnke, 50, took over BMW’s M unit in December 2003 after previous head Adolf Prommesberger retired. Earlier, Bruhnke ran Mercedes-Benz’s AMG high-performance division, where he raised AMG’s sales to 24,000 units from 10,500.
BMW has not yet decided how to expand the M range. Said Bruhnke: “It’s very comfortable to have more ideas than capacity.”
A broadening of the M range could also eventually lead to a future mid-engined supercar in the tradition of the M1, Bruhnke said.
BMW displayed a 700hp V-12 concept X5 at the Geneva auto show in 2000. Said Bruhnke: “This showed what an M car based on the X5 could look like.”