Is the king of niche vehicles finally done with niche vehicles?
BMW had a lot to show off at this year's Los Angeles Auto Show - the all-electric Vision iNext Concept, the three-row X7 SAV, the potent M340i and M340i xDrive, and the elegant M850i Convertible. We had the chance to sit down with Ralph Mahler, BMW's Head of US Product Planning & Strategy to discuss some of these new additions to the lineup as well as the potential for future models.
One topic we quickly wanted to discuss was the idea of a convertible SUV. BMW has been rumored for a while now to be working on a drop-top version of either the X2 or the X4 as a rival for the Range Rover Evoque Convertible. Now, we may be able to put those rumors to bed.
A new Range Rover Evoque has just arrived and a convertible model seems unlikely. When asked about a convertible SUV from BMW, Mahler said "when you discuss something like that, you have to look at how big of a market there is. It is not big." He went on to say "what is basically a limiting factor for growing market segment of this kind of concept is a perception of safety. You have an elevated seating position, for example, and when you open up the whole roof, you lose some kind of protection in the perception of the customer. Therefore, I think the segment is small and will stay small."
Essentially, BMW doesn't seem interesting in entering such a niche segment. Even though BMW has been the king of creating new market segments recently, the convertible SUV segment is one BMW will stay away from for now.
This doesn't mean BMW is done growing its SUV lineup despite already have models ranging from X1 up to X7. When we asked about which segments BMW has left to fill, it seems like the company has only left room to build up rather than down. "There's always room to grow. No problem," Mahler said. "The question is how big is the market potential and what direction you have to develop." If there were to be something above the X7, Mahler pondered whether "it would be just a bigger car or a sportier car. Is there room for something like this in the market? Can we open up a new segment?"
On the other end of the SUV spectrum, the X1 and X2 are BMW's smallest models, so we asked about the potential of something smaller, perhaps called the X0. When asked if BMW could possibly build something below the X1, Mahler answered with a resounding no. "When you look at the SUV market, what is the minimum expectation in terms of size," he asked. Looking at the X1, "that is a small car. I think that basically, in terms of size, you won't see a smaller car in this market."