BMWBLOG was honored to be the guest of BMW Group Australia at their Headquarters in Melbourne.

Melbourne is Australia’s second largest city with a population of 4.2 million and reminds me a lot of Seattle. Melbourne hosts the Australian Open tennis tournament and in 1956 hosted the Summer Olympics. During my short stint there, the weather was cool and rainy, but that’s not unexpected as August means it’s winter time in Australia. Melbourne has lots of pedestrian areas, a tram system and great public transportation. I found it a vibrant and bustling city which in its very core can be confounding to drive.

BMW Group Australia’s headquarters is a 30 minute drive away from the center of downtown. It’s a rather unassuming building facing Springvale Rd, a busy four lane road in a Melbourne suburb. BMW pack quite a bit in here and a lot is behind what visitors initially see. When I entered the building there was a large two-storied lobby with a Titanium Silver X6 M50d, a Mini Cooper and a R1200RT Motorcycle.

I was definitely in the right place!

Behind the main building is a large training facility and a parking lot full of ALL kinds of BMW’s. I could have spent hours just wandering this back lot taking in all these right hand drive beauts.

The walk around to the back of their headquarters reveals a large BMW service training area for Australia with a shop full of different models up for teaching service, and there was even a Mini race car. There were engines in various states of tear down. The shop was huge and typical German. It was clean, modern, bright and had an efficient layout. Sitting in a corner of the back of the engine shop was the 2011ASBK Champion Glenn Allerton’s BMW Motorcycle.

In the typical Aussie hospitality, the BMW folks arranged test drives in some models we don’t get in the United States. I was mostly looking forward to the X6 M50d and getting a chance to experience the heart of the new BMW Performance Automobiles line, and its N57tu tri-turbo diesel motor. This is a motor that NEEDS to come to the American shores. Imagine huge performance with great mileage!

In their corporate cafe, I spent some time learning about Australian car culture and how BMW fits in Down Under from Piers Scott, BMW Group Australia’s Head of Corporate Communications and his excellent team. Australia is similar to the U.S., in a sense that they are a “big car culture.” As with the Americans, larger cars sell better than smaller cars Down Under. I guess this isn’t surprising given that Australia is the size of over 22 European countries combined, and nearly this size of United States but with about 10 percent of our population.

BMW has been Australia’s top premium brand for the eight of the last nine years. Last year, they sold over 18,000 BMWs and around 3,000 MINIs. At first this didn’t sound like a lot until you realize that they had these sales numbers a population of just 22.6 million.

To compare, BMW of North America sold 247,907  to a population of 311.6 million – means sales of 1 new BMW per 1256 people. BMW AUS had sales of 1 new BMW sold per 1255 which is right in line with the U.S.

BMW of Australia employes about 150 people in their corporate headquarters and another 150 in their financial services sector which is continually expanding. They also have around 400 employees in the dealerships that they own. I was amazed that corporate was able to own retail outlets with the ability to order and deliver cars for customers. The largest BMW dealership in Australia however, is privately owned.

Having traveled a fair amount in Australia, I was feeling pretty confident that their best seller was the X5, in some diesel variation. I wasn’t too far off as they confirmed that their best individual model was the X5 30d. As far as best selling series, the 3 Series is on top here as it is in the U.S. and worldwide.

The largest BMW dealer is in Australia happens to be in Melbourne. Doncaster BMW has a 60 new car showroom. If you want to price a car you need to put in a postal code. Why? Because the Aussie tax code is crazy hard for me to understand and price depends on where you buy it, so put in postal code 3000 for Melbourne if you play around with their site.

BMW Australia had a new 6 series Gran Coupe for me to drive. What a car! Here’s our review from the press launch. BMW smacked one out of the park with this model and it’s shaping up to be a huge sales success. The 6 Gran Coupe is incredibly stylish and a great driver’s car with seamless integration of cabin tech. Maybe even the best looking cabin I’ve ever sat in – including much more expensive autos.

BMW cars are more expensive in Australia than they are in the United States. How much more? A loaded 2011 BMW 1 Series M topped out around $54,000 in the US, but they were $99,000 Australian dollars. Factor in that the Australian dollar is stronger than the USD and that would make the 1M over a $100,000 in U.S. dollars. This higher price theme for these cars isn’t unique to Australia; other countries are much more expensive as well. If you think a new Porsche 911S is expensive at around $115,000 in U.S., try nearly $300,000 for a right-hand drive model with PDK and a few options in Australia. As Americans we definitely have a distinct advantage in the overall cost of our BMWs and other high-end cars.

Another interesting thing I learned over a cappuccino is that if you see a BMW in Australia, it’s going to be loaded. What does this mean? Well you are going to see cars with multiple option packages. You won’t find a leatherette stripper. I don’t really see this a problem because BMW’s cost more Down Under and is right in line with their up-market appeal.

I have been fortunate to meet BMW employees from 5 different countries now and all share a passion for the brand and an enthusiasm for the mark, one of BMW’s biggest strengths.

Author’s note: This is the second in a series of articles and maybe even a short video on BMW’s & driving down under in the beautiful, vast country that is Australia.

Read our review of the BMW X6 M50d in Australia