FILLING NICHES IS good business sense. But what happens when every niche in existence is filled? BMW is trying to find out.
Let me start by saying on the record, I like BMW. I like the ethos behind the cars it makes; driving pleasure, quality and style. But even I pine for the days when BMW’s model line up consisted of a small saloon (3-series), an executive saloon (5-series), a luxury saloon (7-series), a convertible (Z3/4) and more recently a 4×4 (X5).
With the introduction of the 1-series small hatchback, I thought BMW had a full model line-up, with one car for every segment that fits their brand identity. Munich’s finest had other ideas.
Slowly but surely, BMW began introducing new models, crowbarring their way into already saturated showrooms and forcing new niches upon a public that neither wanted nor needed them.
A brief look at the BMW website soon highlights the problem, boasting 34 vehicles and 466 model variants! Brace yourself, because it’s about to get confusing.
You can have a 1-Series as a three-door or five-door hatch, while the two-door coupe has been renamed the 2-Series but that will soon be available as a convertible, an “Active Tourer” MPV and, more than likely, a four-door saloon too. The 3-Series is available as a four-door saloon, five-door estate and “Gran Turismo” MPV/Coupe crossover. The traditional 3-Series coupe and convertible have now been rebranded as the 4-Series, although you can also have that as a four-door coupe too. Confused yet?
Continue this through various 5, 6 and 7-Series models, X1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 as well as the Z4, various M performance models, Active Hybrids and the new ‘i’ electric cars and you have a model range bulging at the seams and a deeply confused customer base but a marketing man’s wet dream.
This new-model onslaught isn’t limited to BMW’s own cars though. Under Munich’s stewardship the MINI has expanded from the traditional three-door hatchback to include a four-seater convertible, a two-seater “Roadster”, a two-door coupe, an estate, a van, a five-door off-roader and a two-door off-roader with various Cooper, Cooper S and JCW versions of each.
Rolls Royce isn’t far behind either, with multiple variants of its three different models available.
This problem isn’t isolated to BMW though, I’m fairly confident that every car manufacturer on the planet has at least one model on sale that it doesn’t strictly need, it’s just that the Bavarians are by far and away the worst culprits (Audi has its eyes fixed firmly on that accolade though).
It’s a problem with the world as a whole. I’m all for choice, but there comes a point where there is too much choice. If BMW axed half of its line-up tomorrow, I doubt many people would notice let alone care, and I’d be willing to bet they would still sell just as many cars too. This whole argument can be boiled down to two simple bullet points:
- Don’t invent niches then try and force us to want them.
- Don’t discontinue the 3-Series Coupe, then start selling it again as the ‘New’ 4-Series.