BMW is returning to its M car roots and ushering i-Performance into the spotlight

BMW cruised into the New York Auto Show not with another i8 Spyder concept or a new i3 but rather with the most powerful 7 Series ever, the M760i xDrive.

Boasting 600 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque from the Rolls-Royce-derived 6.6-liter twin-turbocharged V12 engine, the M760 can rocket to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds (or even quicker, as we hear it).

After BMW had finished accepting an award for World Car of the Year in the Luxury category, we sat down with Jose Guerrero, Product Manager for BMW’s i Series and M lines. He told Digital Trends where the two brands are headed — and what it really means to build an M class car.

Digital Trends: Theres talk of a larger battery version of the BMW i3 that will be sold in tandem with the current model. Is that a transitional move?

Jose Guerrero: Well, actually, BMW hasn’t confirmed such a model will be produced. There are of course rumors, but I can’t really speak to that variant exactly. What I can say is that BMW is keen on option simplification and complexity reduction. Especially with BMW i Series, when customers – new to electrification, or new to the brand – are shopping i Series, they’re asking about charging stations, lifestyle impact, etc. There are already so many things that are top of mind in owning an electric vehicle, we don’t want a complex ordering sheet to add any confusion. That’s why ordering sheets for i8 and i3 are a single page. Compared to some cars with five or six pages of options, we’re glad to keep it simple.

In terms of electric range, as your models are in the market longer and you have a better idea of usage, do BMW i Series customers seem content with the range theyre getting at this stage?

Yes. In reality, the driving and charging patterns are such that a vehicle with 80 to 100 miles is just as useful as one with 300. There’s a higher take rate for the range extender version because people want that piece of mind. I call it training wheels. Throughout the industry right now, brands are chasing this 200 mile range goal, but I’m curious to see if people are willing to pay for that battery technology or if a cheaper range-extender model is more aligned with the state of the market. And that’s not to discount the emissions benefits of a pure EV verses a range extender, it’s purely a question of development costs. If people are still commuting on average 30 miles a day, will it be worth the extra cost and weight to consumers? Logic and customer behavior don’t always match up.

Are the majority of your i Series customers buying vehicles as their only cars, or as secondary/commuter transportation?

We’ve seen a shift. Initially, people bought the i3 as their second or third vehicle, and now, especially with the range extender, people find reasons to drive it more and it becomes the primary vehicle. Then the gas-only model becomes the secondary vehicle or they get rid of a second car altogether.

How is the technology from i Series cars working its way into the rest of BMWs lineup?

The new M760 is centered more around luxury than outright performance.

Well, actually, that’s what we’ve decided to highlight at this show — the proliferation of electrification in iPerformance models. We do it for M, taking the M cars technology and letting it trickle down to M Performance vehicles. Now a lot of what we’ve learned from i goes into our most popular models like the 3 Series, the X5, etc. Just between those two segments, we reach 85 percent of our volume. So to say that these two cars are part of the BMW family, it’s a tool for dealers to get buyers into an iPerformance car when fully electric vehicles might have been too much of a leap. The 330e is especially cool to me – because it’s so light, it feels like an i8 to drive.

Might there ever be a crossover between the i and M brands?

Right now, it’s too early to say. If you drive the i8 – carbon-fiber chassis, the instant torque – all the pieces are there already. What M would bring to the i8 would purely be racetrack driving capability. Do you need a twin turbo V8 in the i8? To be honest, I’d like to challenge M to make their version of an i Series car instead of the other way around. Perhaps a KERS system like F1? It’s all there.

Let’s take the M4 GTS for example. So we said to M’s team: what do you want to build next? They’ve been releasing special models for years in Europe, and we asked what it would take to build a special model here in the U.S. They said, ok, we’ve got to integrate a roll cage, get Moto GP water injection, etc…and they made it happen. I know it’s tempting: i and M together…

What about the M2. Do you see it as a return to form for M?

Oh yea. Especially with the M2 – it starts with the manual transmission. It’s at the top of the list. Manual, drivers car, racetrack capability, everything. We gave this list to BMW M. They looked at the list and said: this is what people want? To which we said: yes. We’re not looking to dumb down the M brand, we’re looking for a drivers car. We want something well balanced, not just crazy powerful. At Laguna Seca, I asked Bill Oberlin, professional racing driver, honest opinion, what does the M2 need? He said the balance is perfect – don’t touch anything.

It’s not just a return to form, it’s a return to the roots for M. Everything is done in equal measure; there isn’t one element that’s overdone. Even the E Boost function. Why didn’t we rate it with that overboost all the time? Because that’s not the point of the car, you have 30 seconds of overboost, which is plenty for pretty much any track. This way you don’t have too much power in the corners, just when you actually need it.

2017 BMW M760Li xDrive V12 Excellence
2017 BMW M760Li xDrive V12 Excellence

When BMW introduces a vehicle thats perhaps a cross between two established lines, do you ever fear sales are being stolen from the original lines?

Whenever we reveal a new car, there’s what we call internal loyalty. We focus on improving the pull up or pull out effect, which means we like seeing people go from a 5 Series to a 7 Series, or from a rival model to one of ours. What we don’t want to see is the inverse. So we make product decisions based on the basic concept of a chess board. Are you going to move forward, or lose a move in the segment by deciding not to introduce a particular type of vehicle? We don’t want to lose customers externally, so if we see a demand for a type of vehicle, and it makes profitable sense, we’ll build it. We’re cautious of course, not introducing cars on a whim. We use a lot of customer feedback to see what current consumers want.

M Performance as compared to full-on M cars, how do you distinguish the two from a marketing and development standpoint?

Especially in M Performance world, we think about top level performance and work our way down. Not everyone needs racetrack capability. You can bring in a younger, more aspirational customer with the M Performance models. Later they can transition to the M cars, but for now, they get more aggressive looks and higher performance without going all out. That’s the conversation for, say, the 2 Series. When it comes to the new M760, the conversation is different, but it’s centered more around luxury than outright performance. No one is taking a car with such a large footprint to the track. It’s track-tuned, and has immense power from that V12, but it’s not a full M car because buyers aren’t racing them. We go platform to platform – is it sporty enough for a full M car, or should it be tuned to be an M Performance model?

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