It's no secret that BMW has aspirations to move into the compact premium FWD car market, having recently debuted its BMW Concept Active Tourer
(which will launch as a production model next year). BMW believes that its new FWD architecture, known as the UKL platform (which will be shared with future MINI models), will be key to driving the company's future growth.
The company projects that the premium small car market will become the fastest-growing segment and it needs to expand aggressively into this market in order to battle for the top spot in luxury car sales over the next decade.
Up to 20 New Models Proposed
So just how expansive will BMW's FWD lineup be? According to some recent reports, very extensive.
Frank Niederlaender, the company's product manager for front-wheel drive, says in an interview with Automotive News Europe
, that up to 12 BMW and Mini cars
[already approved], accounting for 40 percent of the group's unit sales, will be underpinned by the platform, or variations of it, within eight to 10 years. Europe will be the main market for BMW FWD cars.
"We've got plans to produce up to 20 new models
on this platform. Not all of them have been approved yet – we’ve got approval on 10-12 new models," confirms Ian Robertson, member of the board of management at BMW.
Europe is leading a global trend where customers are downsizing to smaller models, both because they have less cash to spend and because regulators are introducing tougher CO2 emission limits. But Niederlaender sees opportunities in other major markets. "We are seeing growing acceptance of smaller premium cars in the U.S. and China," he said. In the United States, customers may choose a FWD BMW as a secondary household vehicle, he said.
Klaus Draeger, BMW's head of purchasing, who helped create the UKL architecture during his tenure as the company's R&D boss, said the FWD platform will be used for a wide variety of smaller BMWs and Minis. "There will be several options for different wheel bases and widths of upcoming models.
Limited to Models Below 3 Series
"With one model family, we can do a typical front-wheel hatchback, a larger hatchback, or a small SUV. We can use that architecture not only for the Mini but also for other BMW products that are a little bit bigger and higher and more spacious with a bigger interior." He said BMW's larger vehicles from the 3 series and upward will remain rear-wheel drive. "These are powerful cars so I really don't see a front-wheel-drive model in this segment as being as successful," Draeger added.
Breaking with RWD Tradition
As for the doubters and traditionalists who fear and lament over BMW's expansion into the FWD market, BMW's product manager for front-wheel drive, Frank Niederlaender, assures: "In the '90s we broke with tradition when we began selling SUVs along with our sedans. Customers realized they could get the driving dynamics BMW is renowned for from an SUV. We will see the same transition happening with front-wheel drive."
Draeger adds that by 2020 the automaker expects to have a huge share in fwd models. "We are entering into new segments and are getting new customers who will learn you can drive very well with front-wheel drive."