BMW AG is adding stylish flourishes such as a shark-nose front end to its trademark roadster, part of a broader design overhaul aimed at regaining pizazz and hitting back at Mercedes-Benz.
A prototype of the BMW Z4 two-seater, presented at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance near San Francisco on Thursday, features two narrow kidney grilles and squinting headlights that sweep upward toward wedge-shaped lines on the side.
The racy convertible is slated to go on sale in late 2018 after a two-year hiatus from the previous version. It’s a key component of the Munich-based carmaker’s shift into “attack mode” after Mercedes outsold BMW for the first time in more than a decade last year to take the global lead in luxury cars.
Chief Executive Officer Harald Krueger, who took charge in 2015, is seeking to shake off a rocky start to his tenure through an ambitious plan to overhaul the manufacturer’s lineup with 40 new or refreshed vehicles in the coming two years in what BMW describes as the biggest model offensive in its history.
Reloading the Z4 shows BMW’s desire to restore sporty credentials after a run of utilitarian models like the Gran Tourer minivan and cautious revamps of mainstays such as the 7-Series and 5-Series sedans. It will challenge the Mercedes SLC and be flanked by BMW’s new 8-Series luxury coupe, which will vie for elite drivers with the likes of the Maserati GranTurismo, Porsche 911 and Mercedes AMG GT. The carmaker also plans to re-enter Le Mans GT-class racing next year to challenge Porsche, just as Audi is quitting the famed 24-hour endurance contest.
“We’ve been hearing big words for months, and Krueger made the claim about getting back to No. 1 some time ago,” Juergen Pieper, a Frankfurt-based analyst at Bankhaus Metzler. “Words are one thing, action another. How claims of a truly new design will impress customers remains to be seen.”
Racy cachet is crucial for BMW to woo wealthy consumers after Mercedes undertook a well-received design overhaul and brands from Alfa Romeo to Volvo started targeting that clientele with aggressive growth plans.
“The concept Z4 shows off from all angles BMW’s new design language,” said Adrian van Hooydonk, who heads design for the manufacturer. “It’s an absolute driving machine.”
The German carmaker is also shifting more upscale to maintain profitability amid the financial strain of developing self-driving electric vehicles, which will take years to recoup upfront investment.
While the Z4 will shore up BMW’s image, sales will be small as demand for open-top vehicles shrinks. Deliveries might peak at 22,150 in 2020, according to forecaster IHS Automotive. That compares to an annual high of about 48,600 for the car’s first-generation model, and a total of 2.4 million deliveries for the BMW group last year.
Convertibles, once the ultimate expression of a carefree lifestyle, are falling out of favor as pollution and congestion sour the appeal of open-air driving. Instead, buyers are increasingly opting for an expanding range of upscale SUVs, ranging from sporty coupe-like models to opulent full-sized cruisers.
To save on costs, BMW co-developed the Z4’s main components and chassis with Toyota Motor Corp. as part of a 2013 partnership. The Japanese manufacturer plans to present its version, the Toyota Supra, at the Tokyo Motor Show in October, as part of its own project to shed its utilitarian image.
“It is still important to build these kinds of dream cars that build on brand values for marketing cachet,” said Tim Urquhart, a London-based analyst with IHS Automotive. “It’s an intelligent move to do this car with a partner and have common underpinnings, reaping cost savings and gain scale.”