BMW M boss Frank van Meel reveals why everything has changed.
In November of last year, BMW revealed the Concept XM, thereby confirming its intentions to produce the first standalone M car since the M1 as an SUV, rather than a supercar or high-performance sports coupe. It angered many of us, and resulted in a strongly worded op-ed on the subject. But there's nothing we can do about the decision to bring the BMW XM to production and since it's coming soon, we may as well understand why BMW went this route. Speaking with Autoblog at the Concorso d'Eleganza at Lake Como last weekend, BMW M boss Frank van Meel essentially blamed the buying public for the decision.
"When we did the M1, every car company that wanted to say 'I have something special' built a sports car - that was the segment everyone wanted to enter," says van Meel. "If you look today at the biggest, most important, and fastest-growing segment, it's clearly the SUV segment. And, in comparison to other manufacturers, we were still lacking this ultimate expressive luxury flagship at the top of M."
Should a "luxury flagship" really be the face of BMW M? Sure, there's an Audi RS Q8, but this is not the symbol of Audi Sport. In addition, BMW could have built an M version of the X7 (or upcoming X8) without making it the only standalone M car in decades. Mercedes-AMG has Project One, and this is a better halo car than a large SUV, in our opinion anyway.
The executive continues: "In our 50-year heritage, we've always looked at racing and series-production cars to see where each one is going and what they can learn from each other. We're continuing this with the XM: it has a V8 electric plug-in hybrid system and our upcoming entry into the LMDh prototype category also has a V8 hybrid powertrain. You can see that when it works for racing, it also works for the high-performance cars."
Again, these comments don't seem to hold much water; since when has an SUV ever been considered for motorsport? The truth of the matter becomes clear in his closing comments, where he essentially expresses that the XM is all about money.
"Of course, there is the Mercedes-AMG G63, the Lamborghini Urus, the Aston Martin DBX, and so on. You see all of these high-end, very expressive models. For the customers, this is something that has been missing at M. That was the biggest demand."
So there you have it. The decision to make the first standalone M car in decades an SUV was financially driven. BMW wants to uplift the M brand to the level of Aston Martins and Lamborghinis and offer something to compete with the likes of the upcoming Ferrari Purosangue. If it were up to us, we would have repurposed the recently acquired Alpina brand for this sort of project, and focused on what makes true enthusiasts happy.
The extra cash flow from an Alpina range-topper could be used for creating a true successor to the M1 in the form of another supercar, and BMW M would become the aspirational brand it aims to be without offending its greatest fans. At the same time, it would finally have the answer to the Audi R8 and AMG GT that its enthusiasts have begged for. While we can't change the direction of the M brand, we can at least celebrate that some of its cars remain geared to true enthusiasts, like the M5 CS and M4 CSL.