I would like to have been at yesterday’s BMW financial press conference to hear CEO Norbert Reithofer admit that the BMW brand was gearing up to produce a range of small front-drive cars.
The carmaker has agonised over the front-wheel drive question before. In the early 1990s, BMW built a number of front-drive 3-series prototypes. Back in those days, before the premium brand boom, BMW was a much smaller company.
While BMW’s new boss Bernd Pischetsrieder was convinced BMW needed to expand into more market niches, he thought it should not be done under the BMW roundel.
In 1992-3, Land Rover approached BMW, wanting to buy the company’s new straight-six turbo diesel engine. BMW asked Land Rover’s owners, British Aerospace, whether it would sell Land Rover.
BAe said it would offer the whole Rover Group to BMW for £800m, big money back then. BMW snapped the company up in February 1994, delighted to get Land Rover, Range Rover, Mini and the front-drive Rover brand.
Of course, BMW soon had plenty of time to repent when it unwrapped the endless problems suffered by ‘the English patient’ and also found itself paying substantial licence fees to Honda in order to keep building Rover’s Honda-based cars.