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BMW freshening fleet, expects luxury revival

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BMW freshening fleet, expects luxury revival

Christine Tierney / The Detroit News

BMW predicts it will have the freshest lineup of any premium carmaker by the end of 2012 after rolling out a slew of new models, including a midsize 5 Series sedan that made its North American debut on Wednesday.

The Bavarian automaker also unveiled the most dynamic new model in its 7 Series family, a 500-horsepower B7 Alpina combining agility and top-of-the-line luxury.

BMW will roll out 19 redesigned and refreshed models, or variants with new engines or hybrid powertrains in the next year.


"Over the next 30 months, 60 percent of what we sell will be all new," Jim O'Donnell, president of BMW of North America, said at the New York International Auto Show.

"By 2012, we shall have the youngest model lineup of all premium manufacturers in the United States, averaging slightly less than 2 1/2 years," he said.

The average age of BMW's model range is between 3 1/2 and four years old.

With new models featuring innovative technology and industry-leading performance, BMW looks set to benefit from a recovery in luxury cars and a loss of momentum at Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus brand.

Last year, BMW briefly overtook Lexus, which retained its No. 1 ranking in the U.S. luxury market for the full year.

"I think the premium segment will come back as strongly, if not more strongly, than the volume market," O'Donnell said in an interview with The Detroit News.

Persistent weakness in the U.S. housing sector and sluggish economic conditions in California, an important market for premium cars, still are weighing on luxury carmakers, he said.

But over the next decade, O'Donnell said he expects premium cars to increase their share of the auto market as luxury carmakers enter new segments.

Stringent emission standards are putting pressure on luxury carmakers to develop vehicles that are extravagant enough to appeal to rich customers without being wasteful in fuel economy.

BMW officials said the company already has a sizeable fleet of electric cars; it has leased about 450 Mini E electric cars in the United States.

The Mini E model will be followed next year by the Active E and later by an electric car that BMW expects to produce in much higher numbers by 2015.

"BMW has got a lot of great technology coming. They're branching out into new areas and I think they are executing it very well," said Aaron Bragman, an auto analyst at IHS Global Insight.

BMW recently startled some of its fans when Chief Executive Norbert Reithofer said the automaker would produce small, front-wheel-drive BMW cars.

A front-wheel-drive system is being developed for Mini models and BMW entry-level cars a notch below the 1 Series, O'Donnell said.

In New York, BMW revealed a mix of the fabulous and the frugal, including a 7 Series gas-electric hybrid combining both qualities.

"It's the fastest hybrid in America -- zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds," said Jack Pitney, vice president of marketing at BMW of North America. "It is the BMW of hybrids."

BMW showed a compact BMW 335is with a turbocharged aluminum engine delivering 320 horsepower, and X5 SUVs with new 6- and 8-cylinder engines.


From The Detroit News:


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