For decades, BMW was a small, purebred sports sedan brand from Bavaria, and was content to stay that way
Then came the transformation into a diverse maker of luxury vehicles with operations around the world -- a transition that began in America and can be pinned down to a specific point in time: It was the moment in 1999 when BMW became a merchant of SUVs.
BMW is one of three import brands that have climbed to unimagined heights in the U.S. luxury segment during the past two decades -- specifically by embracing the SUV and its modern-day progeny, the crossover.
Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and BMW all have crossed the 300,000-sales-a-year threshold in the United States -- leaving most of their luxury rivals far behind -- and operate now at a volume of some premium and mass-market brands, including Buick and Volkswagen. And each of the three brands owes that accomplishment to a decision to go where luxury makers once feared to go -- into what they then perceived as the grubby world of mud-spattered trucks.