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X marks the future for BMW

No traction: BMW's gutsy and grippy 330d Touring xDrive is selling well elswhere in the world but won't be coming to Australia.

4WD BMWs gain traction worldwide but no non-SUV models planned for Australia

BMW logo20 Aug 2013

BMW is ramping up its range of high-grip four-wheel-drive models worldwide, but the move is still to gain traction in Australia beyond its increasingly popular SUV range.

More than a third (36 per cent) of all BMWs sold so far this year have been for the high-riding X-range of SUVs – currently the X1, X3, X5 and X6 – and this is expected to climb as buyer demand continues to grow and new models hit the market, such as the all-new X4 due in 2014.

However, BMW Group Australia has used the reception of competitors’ products such as Audi’s Avant quattro models to gauge the potential of 4WD passenger cars in this market, and decided that insufficient demand exists here – for now.

The case has closed on an xDrive version of the forthcoming 4 Series, which was was believed to have been a candidate, as BMW Australia continues to buck the trend towards AWD passenger models – despite strong sales of xDrive cars in neighbouring New Zealand.

BMW Group New Zealand training manager Lance Roskilly told GoAuto at an xDrive event last week that the recently introduced 330d Touring xDrive was selling well in New Zealand, with the 4WD version constituting 40 per cent of all 3 Series Touring sales.

He said Kiwi customers were typically looking for a car that can handle some adverse terrain, while the xDrive system also benefits handling characteristics on the road.

“If we buy an X-car because we are in to skiing or whatever, even if we do use it in the snow or a bit of off-road, we will still use it 99.8 per cent on tarmac,” he said.

“Why build a car that can do that (off-road) really well and then handle poorly on the road?” In the US, all sedan and coupe models bar the 1 Series are available with BMW’s xDrive system, but in Australia only rear-drive options are offered.

This could change as the German luxury car manufacturer introduces a host of new models based on its ‘UKL’ front-wheel-drive small-car platform although BMW says this is not guaranteed.

For now, its subsidiaries in Australia and New Zealand remain focused on its traditional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout as being superior to front-drive-based vehicles from competitors, particularly Audi.

“If you want to make a cheap car you drive the front wheels because that cuts your production costs but it doesn’t handle as well,” Mr Roskilly said. “(But) if you want a car that has really good traction, you have four-wheel drive.

“Almost all BMWs will drive from the rear wheels because it’s by far the best.” BMW Group Australia corporate communications manager Lenore Fletcher explained that models would not be added to the Australian range simply because they sell well elsewhere in the world.

“You do need to be conscious of diversification of the range,” she said. “In Australia you can end up being too fragmented.

“There are constant updates coming through and constant changes to the range.

“At the moment we don’t have any plans for that vehicle (330d Touring xDrive) but we never say never.” BMW’s all-wheel-drive i8 has been confirmed for Australia but the hybrid sportscar uses two separate motors to drive all four wheels, rather than BMW’s xDrive torque-splitting transfer case.

While BMW Australia is sticking with its rear-wheel-drive philosophy, Audi is making a concerted push of its 4WD quattro models in Australia as a key selling point – and a point of difference to its main rivals.

A targeted campaign of quattro advertising and marketing is aiming to boost the profile of the quattro brand and set it apart from other prestige rivals.

One innovative campaign is asking the public to interact and direct the advert, which focuses on the quattro system as an advantage in the Australian environment.

The presence of the quattro badge will be further elevated with an aggressively styled quattro sports coupe, which will premiere at the Frankfurt motor show next month.

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