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Frankfurt show: BMW slams Benz ute, considers its own

Fool’s gold: BMW showed off an M3 ute as an April Fools’ Day prank in 2011, but the growth in the pick-up segment has meant the German manufacturer is now considering a contender.

BMW exec brands Mercedes X-Class ‘appalling’ but admits BMW pick-up a possibility

BMW logo15 Sep 2017

By TIM NICHOLSON in FRANKFURT

BMW’s top executive for the Asia-Pacific region Hendrik von Kuenheim has confirmed that the German prestige brand has considered producing a pick-up but that it would not emulate Mercedes’ all-new X-Class ute – a product he described as “appalling”.

Speaking with Australian journalists at the Frankfurt motor show this week, Mr von Kuenheim, who is BMW Group’s senior vice-president of Asia-Pacific and South Africa, compared the Nissan Navara-based X-Class to the interior of a US-market Ford F-150 and criticised Mercedes’ effort in the pick-up segment.

“When you look now at our German competitor from Stuttgart, I think that the product is appalling,” he said.

“You would have expected something more serious. This is, for me, and I listened to yesterday some of your (media) colleagues from other countries (saying), ‘Oh that’s very cheap, very plasticky, not very much Mercedes-like, what you would expect?&rsquo.”

Asked about the prospect of BMW entering the increasingly popular pick-up class, Mr von Kuenheim said future product development was dependent on how segments develop over time and highlighted the opposition to SUVs within BMW before it eventually launched its wildly successful X5.

“I remember very much the heated discussions, the heated discussion 20-some years ago when an SUV (was considered): does it fit BMW? Now we have an X1, X2, X3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and who knows what else is coming. The market and the customer demand is changing.”

Mr von Kuenheim acknowledged that there were limited pick-up markets and added that while the company was heavily investing in electric mobility and autonomous technology, it was currently “making only money on traditional petrol and diesel cars”.

He emphasised the need to prioritise projects, and that a future pick-up was not currently top of mind for the brand.

“So you need to prioritise yourself. What do we want to do? And from all the priorities … the pick-up is maybe not number one or number two priority.”

Mr von Kuenheim said he kept a picture of a pick-up, as well as a number of other things, on his phone cover as a reminder to push the case to upper BMW management, which is in part a response to the push by BMW Group Australia – led by chief executive Marc Werner – for a pick-up in the brand’s portfolio.

“Marc is fighting for this very hard and every six months my team is making me a new phone cover,” he said. “It’s … what’s going on in my region. Just to remember always what is the priority in my region and there is a pick-up on my phone cover just to remember when I am talking to the board, these are my priorities.”

Mr von Kuenheim admitted that BMW had gone as far as looking at how a ute could be engineered, but insisted that it would not attempt to emulate Mercedes with its X-Class.

“I am well aware that BMW engineers have looked into detail what it takes,” he said.

“I saw the car (X-Class) obviously in Geneva. I was actually disappointed, very disappointed. They can do better. They build fantastic cars, but this one it was a disappointment.”

Mr von Kuenheim said that while Europe was not a strong market for pick-ups and not the highest priority within BMW, key people within the company were keen to see a pick-up with the spinning propeller badge.

“There are … a lot of people at BMW, and now I leave you in the doubt, they say before they retire they would like to have a pick-up to go into retirement. One of those is big financial honcho but right now not the number one priority,” he said.

“For Australia, it is important, no question about it. I acknowledge very clear.”

BMW revealed an M3 pick-up concept back in 2011 – on April Fools’ Day – but this is the first sign that the premium car-maker is serious about looking at the segment.

It presented an X7 concept in Frankfurt, previewing a push into the upper-large premium SUV segment. Any future ute would likely draw on styling cues from a model such as this (pictured below).

BMW Group Australia Marc Werner said it was “not necessarily” critical to have a pick-up in the line-up and added that it would have to fit in with BMW brand values.

“At the end of day, the question is really does it fit to the brand or not, or are we stretching the boundaries here. And I still believe doing a pick-up, it has to be the right fit to the brand,” he said.

“We speak about BMW and obviously it is all about performance, it is about agility, luxury. So it would have to be a BMW typical interpretation of a car.

Not what we are currently seeing in the market. It has to stand out.”

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