Warning: luxury is about to make up to a third of this article’s word count.
Set up in a mobile boutique its makers called the Luxury Excellence Pavilion, BMW presented the Concept X7 iPerformance this morning. The event was part of a world tour and this unveiling ceremony of less than an hour was its only stop in North America. (In your face, Manhattan!) Secondarily BMW also revealed the all-new M5 and even showed off a couple other luxury models for the peripherally curious.
But the X7 was far and away the star of the ceremony.
BMW is pulling out all the stops to celebrate these top-end cars, positioning them deeper as badges of luxury, emblematic of a complete product turnover coming across the next two years. “Globally we’re launching 40 new and revised models over the next 24 months,” says Marc Belcourt, Director, Corporate Communications BMW Group Canada. “In North America we’ll see 17 new and revised models in 2018.” 10 of those 17 models will be completely new. Watch for the word luxury in their unveilings.
But back to the X7: The concept was to blend BMW’s X series and 7 series, to birth the “pinnacle of our SUV lineup” according to Sebastian Beuchel, Director, BMW Brand Management, BMW Canada.
As important to the presenters of this new concept was the evolution of the BMW brand. Lead Designer of BMW Luxury Class, Matthias Junghanns described the design using what he called the “new BMW luxury language.” It’s interesting if a tad abstract at times.
New BMW “luxury language”, outside, inside and into the digital realm.
The first impression to be aware of when you see the X7?
Outside Junghanns waxes lyrically about its “modernity, presence and exclusivity.” He emphasizes these words with such sturm und drang I’m tempted to capitalize them, but instead ask what he means. “Basically, we’ve reduced styling cues with only a very few extremely precise lines in combination with very sensually sculpted, powerful volumes. This combination between soft and hard makes a modern statement and sophisticated impression.”
Not being a designer myself, I enquire if this clean unadorned look harmonizes with the modernist rallying call less is more.
“Yes, less is more definitely. And it is more contemporary.”
If the new design language for the outside sounds sweeping and grand, Junghanns’ move inside becomes detailed and specific. Here the new design language favours “clear forms and select materials” for luxurious experiences. The X7 seats six but retains an airy quality. Junghanns calls it an “open-to-the-sky feeling” and it’s easy to see what he means (the roof is mostly glass). At least it feels that way from here on the outside. We can’t go in; this is a concept one-of-a-kind and they don’t want us spilling coffee on the aerated cream leathers.
You’d think that’s the extent of BMW’s new design language. After all, we’ve covered the outside and inside. Where else can you go? Online! The X7 purveys what Junghanns calls “the next level of personal digital service.” Screens in the vehicle can share content in real time, he tells us. Again, it looks sexy enough from here, now well on the outside looking in.
This larger reimagined design ethic and language is not unique to this X7 concept – or at least it won’t be for long. “It enables us to give every product in future a more unique expression,” Junghanns adds. “So it has a major impact on our complete portfolio and design expression.”
The X7 brand as a “personal experience”
As mentioned above, the X7 is emblematic of BMW’s brand expansion deeper into the world of luxury, or what Sebastian Beuchel calls the “brand as a personal experience.” What’s that mean?
“Specifically when we talk about our luxury segment, we need to be mindful of the kind of target audience we are referring to. For them, time is everything. So it’s not so much about possessions; it’s about the experiences they have. As a brand that would love to expand our position in the luxury segment, we intend to bring forward experiences that are unique, money-can’t-buy ones – to offer these people something they wouldn’t have experienced anywhere else.”
So is the brand evolving into a separate luxurious entity unto itself?
Not quite. “It’s moving beyond the product, but the product is always key!” Makes sense. Of course the brand is rooted in the vehicles. He agrees. “That’s what the company is all about. But it’s also the reason we decided to partner with other luxury brands.”
My expression must betray some confusion. Beuchal goes on to explain that not everyone riding in this luxury brand experience (car) may share your or my love of cars. “Having other brands beside ours lets us talk to a broader target group.”
The penny drops! That’s why BMW’s taken to sitting their logo alongside such compatible brands as Mont Blanc, makers of $5,000 pens; Garrison bespoke suits; Montecristo Jewellers; and Pearl-Morrissette wines from down the road in Niagara. (Yay, booze!)
But they’re not moving away from their roots. In fact, BMW is harkening to the roots as they expand the brand to sit with these other luxuries, as was evidenced on the veil covering the X7 pre-reveal. It contained three (more) German words that I don’t recognize. “Freude am Fahren is our original brand claim,” says Beuchel.
Translated, the original claim Freude am Fahren says "sheer driving pleasure.”
So is this nuanced return to roots walking away from the brand positioning of ‘Joy’ that’s trumpeted throughout BMW’s advertising these past few years?
Not at all. “We will continue focusing on joy because joy is our brand core. It speaks to such an emotional human experience.”
Joy, as in the thrill of driving? “Exactly. But we will enhance the expression of joy not only limited to the drive but also the joy of beauty, of aesthetics, the joy of belonging to a certain community.” So they’re rooting themselves in the product to expand the brand away from it.
“If we manage to provide an experience that goes beyond the product that is also aspirational and on ‘eye-level’ with us, then a customer will have an even more enriching experience.”
Those harkened roots go deeper than the new/old brand promise of sheer driving pleasure. Accompanying this expansion of their luxury positioning, displayed on the wall behind the X7, boldly sits a redesigned original German logo: Bayerische Motoren Werke is Bavarian Motor Works.
“You’ll see how it’s laid out in black and white for our luxury segments – the 7 and 8 Series, the i8, the X7 – we will be using this newly designed logo and using the company name fully written out. We’re using that in communications to elevate that notion that there’s a legacy of 100 years in this German company.” Again rooting the brand to evolve it.
The X7 unveiling and presentation took place inside the Luxury Excellence Pavilion, while the M5 was revealed outside in one of downtown Toronto’s increasingly rare empty public spaces. Even when our hosts unveiled and revved the M5, most members of the media remained indoors – maybe because the X7 is clearly the big news of the day; maybe because it was cold here in Toronto this morning for the first time months but warm inside; or maybe it's because inside was where the food was.
The M5 comes with several unique technological features including “intelligent lightweight”. It sounds like a contradiction but means carbon materials wherever possible. Another truly intelligent feature is the BMW MX5, which is what it sounds like: “the best of both worlds, the dynamic advantages which you would know from our rear-wheel drive and the benefits of traction and ground control of an all-wheel drive system,” says Beuchal.
So everyone’s happy. That luxury-loving passenger with bespoke wine who doesn’t ascend to the state of joy those of us who treasure disappearing rear-wheel drives can flick to all-wheel drive because they think it’s safer.
As with the X7, we weren’t allowed entry, though they did rev the engine loud enough to drown a 21-gun salute. Count me among those longing to get inside. Beuchal teases, “I would argue that these are the most beautiful sport seats that we’ve ever made.”
Picture that: A luxurious place to sit while experiencing the new M5, as it achieves 600hp and launches from 0 to 100kph in just 3.4 seconds.
Earlier you were warned about an abuse of the word luxury. Take a look at the M5 and be further warned: a luxury once enjoyed oft becomes necessity!