Interview: Morrison

screen-shot-2011-08-16-at-103857BMW UK’s head of small cars talks to JAMES BAGGOTT about the firm’s new M car that’s already nearly sold out

What sort of buyer will you be targeting with the 1M?

The car was conceived to be the youngest and most affordable M car. The target buyer will either be in a high-end 1 Series like a 135 or in a Porsche Cayman. Some buyers may even be trading up from a 370Z. Some people who are driving a 3 Series, particularly older M3 customers who couldn’t stretch to an E92, will be attracted to it too. This car plugs that gap.

You’re only bringing 450 to the UK. Is there a danger you’ll run out soon?

Well, we’ve sold two thirds of our allocation already. That’s 300 cars. It was announced in December, so most of the 300 are people who have never seen the car in the flesh, never driven it, and had only really read early road tests of a disguised early car. So a lot of people bought it simply on the looks but knowing it would be great to drive. I think it’ll sell out within a very short window. We’ve got a small production window for UK cars – March to December – so it’s now forward selling production. Sales have slowed after the initial burst of enthusiasm but now with the press coverage starting it won’t be long before the rest are snapped up.

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Why wasn’t it called the M1?

Well, M1 was a very unique car. It was one of our first M cars and it was what we call a supercar class. By that we mean a strict two-seater and it’s really a totally different class of car to this. Naturally this car would have been called M1, based on M3 and M5, but it was felt it wasn’t the right name for this type of car which is a small coupe-class vehicle. That’s why it is named along the same principles as Z roadster, X5 M etc. There was a lot of discussion about the name generally, but we find it naturally gets called M Coupe or 1M.

Does that mean the M1 name is being reserved for something else?

I don’t know of any plans for it to be, but as I said, it’s for a high- end supercar class so if there was a supercar successor it’s that name we’d want to give it. And if it had been taken up by this then it really messes up the naming convention. You never know, it could be revived. There’s always hope that there could be another supercar class BMW.

‘We think it’ll go down in history as being truly unique and iconic’

This could have been one of the best-selling M cars ever. Why has it been restricted to just 450 sales?

We wanted to underline exclusivity and show that this car is something quite special. We planned on these volumes two years ago. We were looking forward, trying to guess what the market was going to be like. That was coming out of a recession so it was hard to predict what was going to happen. With any high-end performance supercar you’ve got to plan sensibly. It’s always better to have too few cars and some real excitement than too many. With this car there is some real excitement and we think it’ll go down in history as being truly unique and iconic. Other markets are equally restricted – the States will get 6-800 and other markets like France will get less.

screen-shot-2011-08-16-at-104418What about a convertible?

Again there are high-level discussions but we don’t really see much opportunity for that car. For this size of car as a convertible we might lose a bit too much purity. The M3 convertible does very well but it’s a bigger car. There’s nothing planned for a hatch version either at the moment.

Is there still a healthy market for cars like this?

I’d say the sales figures say there is. As you know, the car can do nearly 30mpg so it’s not a gas guzzler. CO2 is 224g/km so it’s below the high end tax band. You could argue it’s got supercar performance without the taxation. We’ve seen a big swing towards low CO2 diesels primarily driven by company car buyers, but there are a lot of retail customers out there who aren’t paying benefit in kind so don’t have this CO2 financial pressure.

Could you ever see the M badge on the back of a diesel car?

Never say never. I don’t think M or BMW are willing to get hooked up in what’s happened in the past. They’ll always look to the best solution for the best performance and everyday usability. Diesels have come on such a long way. 1 Series sales alone are about 65-70 per cent diesels so it’s a really important market. Our 123d has very few competitors as there aren’t many manufacturers producing high-performance diesels.

How should dealers push this car?

Well it’s been hard for dealers as we haven’t been able to give them a launch car. That’s because we couldn’t get enough production to facilitate that so unfortunately for the dealers it’s selling it to customers who have absolute confidence in M cars. There are supporting online configurators and the group test press reviews will be critical. Dealers can draw down demonstrators from us but they are limited. The car will be at a number of events like Goodwood, but by then there’s a good chance the car will be sold out.

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