Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Is it about China?


I’ve spent most of the day thinking about my earlier post on the BMW 5 GT concept that broke cover overnight.

It’s occurred to me that, somewhat foolishly, I’ve been looking at the market positioning from an extremely Euro-centric position.

What if BMW is taking a similar tack that they took, perhaps inadvertently, with the previous generation 7 series?

A car that initially tanked in Europe on the basis of it’s looks , the old 7 went gangbusters in the Chinese market. It also signalled a shift in BMW’s understanding of it’s future market. This shift was confirmed by the launch of the Concept CS as the Shanghai motor show (as opposed to a show in their traditional European heartland) and the somewhat lesser known introduction of a LWB (long wheel base) 5 Series sedan exclusively for the Chinese market.

In 2006 I completed my Masters thesis in automotive design and although the main thrust of my research was something else, I spent a good deal of my time coming to understand Chinese taste in the premium car market. One of the characteristics of the emerging haute-bourgoisie is the desire to be driven (having seen traffic in Hong Kong, I can understand why). And with the desire to be driven, less focus is placed on BMWs old maxim of the “Ultimate Driving Machine” and instead we start looking at the Ultimate Driven Machine.

And in this respect, as the new press images from BMW show, the GT will indeed be ultimate in the traffic choked streets of Asia’s cities. Masses of rear leg-room and stupendous head room within a package that won’t be unwieldy in traffic (unlike a LWB 7 series). Indeed, looking at the pictures, I imagine you probably would have to go to that size vehicle to get similar rear-cabin room.

 The vehicle I designed back in ’06 aimed to recreate a limousine experience within 5 meters, reclining seats and all. The 5 GT is 4998mm long and provides the same rear cabin experience as a LWB 7 which is a full 212mm longer. Maybe I was on to something…

My doubts about the car’s success in the European market still stands, but if China is indeed the target, who cares about fighting the same old scrappy battle the German premiums always fight. BMW just jumped out of the ring and found a new playground.

Category: Branding, Car, Design, Design Strategy, Premium

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© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.