Along with his three brothers, Harris Morris Warner was among the key founders of the Warner Bros. studio. In the early 20th century, movies had no sound; after acquiring the KWBC radio station, H.M.’s (as he was known) younger brother Sam decided to use synchronized sound in the company's movies. The elder brother’s response upon hearing this idea was not very positive.
“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” he said, a quote that would remain in history despite the fact that he, obviously, soon changed his mind.
In much the same way, BMW purists are scoffing at the company’s plans to introduce front-wheel drive cars. The first will be the 1-Series GT, which was previewed by the Active Tourer concept that was displayed at this year’s Paris Auto Show, and starting from 2013, will rival the Mercedes B-Class.
“Who the hell wants a front-wheel drive BMW?” is the consensus among brand owners and/or fans of the Bavarian brand.
Around 40 percent of BMW and Mini customers in the next eight to 10 years, is the answer according to the company’s product manager for FWD models, Frank Niederlaender.
“In the ‘90s we broke with tradition when we began selling SUVs along with our sedans”, he told Automotive News Europe. “Customers realized they could get the driving dynamics BMW is renowned from an SUV. We will see the same transition happening with front-wheel drive”, he added.
BMW claims that the new FWD ULK platform is the key to its future growth and retaining the number one spot in the premium segment ahead of rivals Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
According to sales and marketing chief Ian Robertson, the premium small car class will become the fastest-growing segment and the ULK will aid BMW to benefit from this growth.
That’s because this front-wheel drive platform offers a number of advantages. For example, the rear-wheel drive 1-Series has been criticized for offering less rear passenger space than its rivals, something that will be fixed with the much more space efficient FWD platform.
Then, as BMW’s head of purchasing Klaus Draeger, who as the company’s former R&D chief helped develop the ULK platform, points out, it is flexible enough to underpin a number of different versions.
According to Draeger, this platform will be used for many small BMW and Mini models: “With one model family, we can do a typical front-wheel drive 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 told the news site.
The new front-wheel drive BMWs will mostly be directed to European customers, though Niederlaender expects other major markets to catch on: “We are seeing growing acceptance of smaller premium cars in the U.S. and China”, he said, adding that in the States, a FWD BMW may be bought as a “secondary household vehicle”.
IHS Automotive forecasts that BMW will easily meet its target of 2 million units per year by 2020. It expects 960,000 annual sales of ULK-based BMW and Mini models and estimates that the Group’s total sales at that time will rise from this year’s 1.76 million vehicles to 2.58 million, with the compact and subcompact segments accounting for 70 percent of that growth.
No doubt, the purists will be somewhat appeased by Draeger’s comment that models larger than the 3-Series will continue to employ rear-wheel drive. “These are powerful cars so I really don’t see a front-wheel drive model in this segment as being successful”, he said.
Then again, there was a time that no one wanted to hear actors talk…
By Andrew TsaousisStory References: Autonews Europe