It is one of the strangest unveilings of recent times: an innocuous-looking computer file attachment that opens to spill the beans on the all-new BMW 3-series – nearly a year before the car goes on sale. The showroom brochure in Slovenian is complete with full photographs, measurements, options lists and even colour charts.
Autocar obtained the leaked document last week, confirming how accurate our recent 3-series scoop photographs were. The new Three is the most conservative of the recent Chris Bangle-designed BMWs, but retains the characteristic sculpted bonnet and angled swage lines running down the flank of the car.
It’s certainly not as controversial as the 5- or 7-series, probably because BMW cannot risk alienating the heartland of its customer base: 3-series sales account for 57 per cent of its annual production with more than half a million sold last year.
The leak sent shockwaves around Munich, but also sparked numerous conspiracy theories about its origin. BMW ordered an internal inquiry and has denied it was an official leak, claiming it could even be the result of industrial espionage.
Certainly, its early publication could cause headaches for BMW, which will sell the current-generation E46 3-series for a further eight months – an estimated 200,000 cars.‘A leak like this such a long way in advance of a model launch is highly unusual, and such detailed information on a new model can theoretically harm sales,’ warned Andrew Wright, market analyst for CSM Worldwide. ‘However, while sales of a Ford or Vauxhall could drop after such a leak, the 3-series is an immensely solid nameplate from a blue-chip manufacturer. People will still want the current 3-series – it’s a great car.’
The new Three, codenamed E90, is not expected on sale in the UK until early next summer. Sources in Germany insist that the leak won’t change the launch strategy for the car. It will still be unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2005, with Continental sales in April and right-hand-drive sales in May. A Touring estate is due later in 2005, and the usual coupé/cabriolet twins, expected to be badged 4-series, will follow in 2006.