Ever since BMW debuted the 1 Series in Europe in 2004, Stateside BMW enthusiasts have been asking if and when we will get a 1 Series. The answers to that basic question have been cloudy for a long time, but they seem to be getting clearer by the day.
BMW officials have consistently stated that the U.S. would not see the 1 Series until after it had received its mid-cycle updates. The carmaker traditionally utilizes 7-year product cycles with mild styling changes in the third year. Last week BMW released photos of the facelifted five-door hatch, along with pictures of the first new derivative, a three-door hatch. These will both be officially unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in early March and arrive in European showrooms thereafter.
But the new hatch model is still irrelevant to the American market since BMW has stated adamantly that it does not intend to offer a hatchback in the States again. Their last hatch offering, the 318ti of 1995 to 1998, was a weak sales performer. Moreover, many felt the 318ti cheapened the BMW brand’s upscale image. America wasn’t ready for the concept of a premium hatchback then, and BMW doesn’t want to take another chance on that in the future.
But knowing that we won’t get a hatch leaves only more questions. Will there be a convertible, like the CS1 concept car that the 1 Series is based upon? If there is a convertible, will there also be a coupe? Does it make sense to offer a four-door sedan? If there is a sedan, can it spawn a true wagon? These questions, unitl recently, have only been answered with “neither confirmation nor denial.” BMW spokespeople do not offically speculate on future product.
But at the recent press introduction of the new 3 Series Convertible, an Automotive News staff reporter was able to coax some details of the 1 Series from Klaus Borgmann, the project manager for both the 1 and 3 Series. Borgmann apparently stated that America will see both a two-door coupe and a convertible. Both models should arrive here sometime in 2008. While BMW North America would not officially confirm these plans, a spokesperson did say that the Automotive News reporter was accurate in reporting the statement she received from Mr. Borgmann.
Engine options have yet to be confirmed, but BMW officials have said they do not plan to offer a four-cylinder engine here. The assumtion is they will employ a version of the magnesium/aluminum 3.0-liter six-cylinder that is currently found in the European 130i, as well as the 3 and 5 Series, Z4 Coupe and Roadster, and X3 and X5 sport activity vehicles. There is also a strong possibility the 3.0-liter turbocharged six from the 335i coupes and sedan could find its way into an M version of the 1 Series.
The other big question on everyone’s mind is pricing. Clearly the 1 Series must be priced below the 3 Series. But how much cheaper is the question. If it is priced too closely to a comparable 3 Series, buyers may make the jump and 1’s may sit on dealers’ lots. Pricing it too far below the 3 Series could not only cheapen the brand image, it might also make the 1 Series unprofitable for BMW and its dealers, spelling early termination for the model here. The challenge for BMW will be resisting the tempation to market the 1 Series as an “entry-level” car. Instead, the 1 must be seen as a premium small car that appeals to a different buyer than the 3 Series. MINI has been successful in convincing buyers that small doesn’t necessarily have to equate to cheap. Audi and Volvo are also trying their hands at this approach with the A3 and C30, respectively.
Among driving enthusiasts, there is strong sentiment that the 3 Series has grown too large and luxurious to be a true sports coupe. Many of them long for a smaller, simpler car with the driving dynamics BMW has become known for. The 1 Series coupe could possibly deliver on that desire, all the while holding its head high as a true BMW.
For those who are following the progress of the 1 Series, the next few months will certainly be exciting times.