By DIANA T. KURYLKO | Automotive News
PHOENIX -- BMW is considering offering a crossover vehicle along the lines of Infiniti's new FX45 and a range-topping coupe that would slot in above the new 6 series.
The German luxury-car maker already is poised to enter three new segments. Now it is probing more product niches.
BMW expects U.S. sales to expand from around 235,000 units this year to 300,000 by 2008, excluding Mini. The target is part of a corporate plan to increase global sales from around 1 million in 2003 to 1.4 million in five years, said Tom Purves, CEO of BMW of North America LLC.
New vehicles will drive much of the growth. The X3 small SUV is due in February, the 6-series coupe and convertible will be launched in the spring and the 1-series compact is planned for 2005.
But Purves, who was interviewed at the X3 press launch here last week, said the company is asking: What do we do next?
"Is there a vehicle that gives us another niche opportunity?" he said. "We have different ideas. The process has evolved beyond wait-and-see."
A crossover and a luxury coupe are the best bets.
Purves said the types of cars that "jump out" as possibilities for BMW include Infiniti's new crossover, the all-wheel-drive FX45 sport wagon.
BMW showed its X coupe, a crossover study, at the 2001 Detroit and New York auto shows. The awd show car, which used the X5 drivetrain, had no B-pillar. Its rear end opened clamshell style, and - like the FX45 - it had 20-inch wheels to give it a sports car appearance.
The crossover concept was "intended partially to encourage people to think in different design directions for BMW," Purves said. "But it was also to say, 'Hey, you can have an off-road sports car. It is entirely possible to do that.'
"We have a number of different crossover concepts that we are experimenting with and trying different things with model forms. If we can execute any form of vehicle in a BMW way, there is no reason we shouldn't do it."
BMW also is considering a premium coupe.
Purves called Mercedes-Benz's CLS four-door coupe, shown at the Frankfurt auto show in September, an interesting development.
"You may also see clever executions like that from us in the future," he said. "I'm not saying the same thing, a form of something like that."
Basing a luxury coupe on a lower-priced sedan would "make the basic components of a car go further," Purves said. "I think a very large luxury coupe is a potential area for us. I think there is market potential there."
BMW is unlikely to leap into the minivan segment.
"The minivan seems to be one of the more difficult ones in the premium brand," Purves said. "If you are a premium brand, you have to be pretty sure that whatever you are doing will cause people to say, 'I want to pay a bit more for it.' "
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