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The Spun Bearing: Thoughts On the UKL Class Cars, Mercedes-Benz Platforms, and the HB Coupe

Interesting | April 13th, 2012 by 12
bmw-front-wheel-drive-fWD

Thoughts On the UKL Class Cars BMW has a goal to reach two million car sales in the near future. There is some belief that …

Thoughts On the UKL Class Cars

BMW has a goal to reach two million car sales in the near future. There is some belief that sales of two million or more vehicles will go a long way towards keeping the wolf, in the form of a buyer, away from the door.

To reach that number BMW will have to move into uncharted waters (for BMW at least), small front wheel drive cars. These are the A & B class cars that appeal to an urban population, especially in population dense mega-cities.

While adding sales to the BMW brand (at a premium price – and that’s important to keep in mind when thinking about why a BMW badge will be on a FWD car), it also helps reduce their fleet carbon dioxide numbers (important in Europe) and increases their fuel economy numbers (important everywhere).

BMW will make use of its platform matrix architecture and build the A & B class cars using a mix of components that are shared with the 1er and 3ers. The body panels, wheelbase, width, and other dimensions will be unique to the the A7 B class cars, but BMW shares as much componentry as possible.

The appeal of BMW’s platform matrix is the flexibility of the firewall location. This allows for a longitudinal or transverse engine layout depending on where the driven wheels are placed. That flexibility appears to be somewhat unique in the industry. As an example the Volkswagen MQD platform has gotten a lot of press recently, and it allows for a great deal of dimensional flexibility except for the front axle center-line and firewall distance. So it is a fixed firewall
platform. And it makes sense for VW – they intend to build approximately four million vehicles a year off of it!

BMW can hope that their B class offering is as effective from a sales perspective as Mercedes Benz’s B class. Mercedes Benz sell around 100,000 B class vehicles a year. Nothing to sneeze at.

Mercedes-Benz Platforms

A news item popped up on the iPad this week regarding Mercedes Benz consolidating to two platforms from four. (I use the news reader Zite on the iPad, which I find quite useful as it allows feedback and I can block all the strident political nonsense and Hollywood news from appearing.)

Motor Authority ran an article that quoted an interview of Wolfgang Bernhard that was carried in Automotive News Europe. In that interview, Bernhard mentions that Mercedes Benz is going to two platforms, one for small FWD offerings (the MFA platform) and one for the  rear drive cars (MRA). There appear to be some outliers, such as the Gelaendewagen (G Class), but the bulk of their offerings will be on one of the two platforms.

Unlike BMW, which has one platform for large (5er, 6er, 7er) cars, and one for smaller cars (3er, 1er (FWD and RWD)), Mercedes Benz will put the C class cars on the same platform as the S Class cars. That will mean similar suspension setups from S to C, and the C class will definitely benefit from that. BMW has a double wishbone setup on the large car platform and a MacPherson strut setup on the smaller cars.

The HB Coupe

The Huet Brothers sell watches and build cars. The original car was the HB Special – an open car that they describe as a Barchetta (Italian for ‘little boat’) – that utilizes a refurbished TR-6 powerplant. Now they’re building a closed car using a different formula.

Instead of sourcing just the drivetrain from a manufacturer, the HB Coupe utilizes the mechanicals and suspension of the BMW 1er Coupe. They intend to build a maximum of 40 a year using classical carbon fiber construction techniques for the bodies (the full-on time consuming process – unlike the new process, RTM, that BMW will be using to build the i vehicles with).

They have a great retro look (and for those of us who grew up a long time ago – these cars really do tug at the heartstrings) and the coupe mechanicals promise a practical up to date driving experience. Buyers can chose from a BMW 2.0 L diesel with 6 speed manual or 8 speed auto, or the sweet inline six N55 coupled to a 6 speed manual or seven speed DCT.

I’ve not seen a completed car in pictures, but Huet Brothers does have a number of illustrations done by Marco van Overbeeke included in the press kit for the coupe.

The caveat is the price, which for the HB Coupe (non RR edition) 3.0L, starts at Euro 74,500. That’s a significant premium over a 135i, but it will be super rare and quite quick (for the N55 will have about 1,000 lbs less weight on its back – acceleration will be significantly quicker).

Yes I’m intrigued. This car has a bit of a siren’s song to it – and the thought of owning a clean, lightweight, BMW under the skin, great looking retro-coupe with my initials on it is tempting. But what I want to know is this, are the Huet Brothers selling watches to build cars, or are they building cars to sell watches?

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