Next BMW 1-series Might Not Come to U.S., Will Depend on Success of CLA and A3
While Mercedes-Benz and Audi are racing into the compact-luxury segment, their usual rival is taking a cautious approach. In several interviews, BMW executives have told us that there’s no guarantee the company will bring the next-generation 1-series to the U.S., and that the decision will hinge largely on how the new CLA and A3 perform in the market. A front-wheel-drive 1-series already is in advanced stages of engineering and was previewed as a concept car last fall.
“Where we have the 1-series close to the 3-series in terms of the price ladder, what Mercedes and Audi are doing is giving more focus in the below-$30,000 price range. We’re going to watch that and in the future—well, the battleground has now moved to this $30,000 price point. We’re working hard to take advantage of that market,” Paul Ferraiolo, BMW’s head of product planning and strategy for North America, said. Other executives were more direct, saying the decision is up in the air.
Believe it or not, low sales of the 1—more 3-series have been sold here in the past seven months than 1-series since its introduction—aren’t the reason for BMW’s hesitation. The car has developed a great niche among enthusiasts, and as an impractical rear-drive coupe and convertible, nobody had expectations of it becoming a big seller. Rather, the same reasoning that kept the second-generation BMW 1-series, the F20, out of America is under consideration again: It’s built in Europe, making it expensive for the company to export to the U.S., and there’s too much potential for overlap with the Mini line. Core BMW fans might be enough to twist BMW’s arm into offering a stick in the M5 and M6, but they’re outweighed by questions like “Are we going to lose money on every one of these?”
This isn’t to say BMW wants nothing to do with lower-priced models in the U.S.—especially now that a completely stripped 328i starts at $39,625. The X1 crossover kicks off at just less than $32,000, and the new 320i begins at $33K and change. Other than BMW detuning the 328i’s turbo four down to 180 hp, that 320i is really promising. Available stick? Check. Rear-wheel drive? Check. Optional all-wheel drive? That too. Legit sports-sedan underpinnings? Yes. On paper, then, the 320i is a hell of an alternative to the CLA and the A3.
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Visibility is a problem for the X1 and the 320i, though, and it’s the reason we think BMW eventually will have no choice but to bring the next 1 here. The bargain 3 will have no public awareness, and any specific marketing could come off as “gutted 3-series.” No car fan’s sister is going to call and say, “Hey, I heard about a new cheap BMW coming out,” but “I noticed that new cheap new Benz on the road today,” is realistic.
Mercedes dealers will begin selling the CLA this fall, and Audi’s A3 lands a few months later.