BMW thinks an ultra-expensive city car will soon make sense.
BMW may be planning to enter an entirely new market segment soon, and we don't mean the rumored BMW truck, either. No, BMW believes there exists demand for an ultra-high-end city car that's more of a fashion statement than an automobile, sort of how Rolls-Royce views itself as a luxury brand and not an automaker.
Despite global economic concerns, the number of millionaires made each year continues to grow. In China, 5.3 million dollar millionaires reside in the country (according to Credit Suisse), as do two-thirds of the world's self-made women billionaires. If you're in the luxury goods business, China is the place to be, and BMW sees new opportunities here as the number of millionaires, and in particular, female millionaires, continue to grow.
"By 2030, 2035, especially in China, there will be so many more millionaires, and more female millionaires," admitted BMW design boss Domagoj Dukec, when we spoke to him in Italy last month. "This has a completely different impact on our perception of what they're going to buy."
While we tend to equate luxury cars with large limousines, in the luxury goods business, petite items often carry high-dollar price tags.
"Luxury in the future will not be expressed by size," according to Dukec. "Hermes bags, they're not cheaper when they're small."
On the subject of city cars, Dukec revealed that these could be reimagined as luxury vehicles as wealthy female buyers will demand something expensive and exclusive but in a small and subtle package.
This is not the case in the rest of the world.
"Of course, wealthy people are different in Europe," acknowledged Dukec. "In Paris, they drive small cars even if they are rich just because it's the most convenient thing."
This suggests that currently, the demand for a luxury city car is not sufficient for BMW bean counters to give it the green light. But as wealthy shoppers buying habits change, a tipping point will come when it does make sense.
What would a luxury BMW city car look like?
The short answer would be something with the style of one of the brand's luxury sedans with the proportions of a 1 Series or even smaller. And not what former BMW design boss Chris Bangle imagined a few years ago (below).
With the help of our AI friends, we imagined what a diminutive 4 Series might look like, and the result was quite compelling. Inside, we'd expect all the latest tech the Bavarians tend to reserve for its elite models, which would mean the latest iDrive sofware, in-car gaming, cutting-edge safety features (like the new eye-activated lane change), the BMW Curved Display, and possibly Level 3 or 4 autonomous driving.
While you might assume motivation would come from an electric powertrain, Chinese buyers associate luxury with combustion power, so perhaps a refined version of BMW's turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that sits in 128ti would do the trick.
If BMW is serious about this, expect an avant-garde city car concept to arrive in the next couple of years. Hopefully, it does better than the Aston Martin Cygnet, which was a flop of an ultra-luxury city car built to circumvent average fleet emissions.