Unlike some manufacturers (see Audi for example) BMW was sharp to pick up on the sales potential of luxury SUV’s, and although Mercedes beat them to the market by a couple of years with the first generation ML, it was the first generation X5 (known by car buffs as the E53) that really brought a whole new dawn to this type of vehicle. Now I won’t retrace the multiple steps that I’ve made concerning the original BMW X5 but it heralded an important shift in the way SUV’s drove, their interior design/quality and also performance, so much so that BMW coined the phrase ‘SAV’ (Sports Activity Vehicle) to describe its creation.
I’m unsure whether BMW trademarked it’s silly term but it is the only manufacturer who has bothered to use it to describe its SUVs/crossovers…after the X5 came the X3 and more recently the X1, plus the X6 – a self-proclaimed SAC (Sports Activity Coupe). All of these latecomers have been relatively successful, but none has equalled the feats achieved by either the original X5 (E53) or it’s successor (known as the E70). The second generation car‘s achievements are all the more impressive when you consider that it has faced a whole host of impressive competition; many of these cars are used as posh school run vehicles so feature third row seating, the E70 generation X5 is no exception but it’s seats are among the smallest available.
Although the X5 has grown slightly in each generation it has managed to avoid the gargantuan proportions of cars like the Mercedes GL and Audi Q7, both cars with which it arguably competes with on price and prestige, but far lags behind in terms of interior space (although that is debatable in the Audi!). Mercedes’ GL in particular has seen massive popularity in markets like North America and the Middle East where it’s ample three rows and car-like driving dynamics pretty much place it in a class of its own; the Land Rover Discovery is almost as spacious inside but lacks some of the prestige and reliability associated with the Mercedes badge. Therefore it was of no surprise to most auto enthusiasts when news leaked of a potential BMW ‘X7’, a car substantially larger than the X5 which was to come with 7 full-sized seats and a full-sized price to match. Artists impressions were rendered and early spy shots taken, but with the economic downturn of the late 00’s the project was rumoured to have been cancelled as sales of almost all SUV-type vehicles plunged across the world.
But BMW should not have underestimated the wealthy’s demand for beefy, high performance child-wagons, as full size SUV sales have rebounded quite well, even for truck-based vehicles such as the Cadillac Escalade and it’s siblings. The Audi Q7 has managed to climb to success despite its limited practicality and even the whale-like Infiniti QX56/QX70 has managed to retain a healthy niche amongst the well-heeled and broody. What BMW will be watching most enviously though, is the success of Mercedes’ GL; based on their ML X5-rival and produced in the same Alabama factory it is a solid money spinner for the German brand, and has now entered its second generation to rapturous applause…Mercedes have even been offering a diesel in the United States ffs! So after a few years of murmurings it seems that BMW may now again be ready to take the plunge into full-size SUV/SAV-dom with a model bearing the X7 nameplate.
What do we know about this model? Well at the moment not a whole lot as the only information we have to go on is that BMW will be announcing important news relating to their South Carolina manufacturing plant, which is where they build their X3/X5/X6 vehicles. Given that this plant is already at full capacity it seems likely that there will be some sort of expansion, which could also potentially include space within which to build the X7. Enthusiasts may recoil at the idea of a proper BMW 7 seater but in all honesty at this stage it is clear that BMW is in the business of making money…cars like the 2 Series Active Tourer and new X4 demonstrate that if people are likely to buy it then they will make it. The X7 has massive potential for the company to pull in buyers who may otherwise have chosen a GL/Q7/Escalade, and will also encourage those squeezing their brood into a 7 seat X5 into spending more money for more space…or even just those who just want the biggest and the best from the brand.
As a big fan of this type of vehicle I am obviously pretty interested in it even if it’s likely to be many years before I could ever afford to buy one. Apparently any X7 could be based on the 7 Series platform which in turn would mean a thoroughly more luxurious (and expensive) vehicle…it could also point the way towards the potential Rolls Royce uber-SUV which has been rumoured to launch by the end of the decade, especially as the Rolls Royce Ghost is based on the 7 Series platform. Of course if this was true then it will probably be a few years before we see the finished production vehicle, as the new 7 isn’t due until late 2015 and the X7 would likely arrive a year or so after that. The alternative is to borrow Mercedes’ approach to the ML/GL models and simply stretch the platform upon which to base the larger car, but the problem here is that the new X5 (launched last year and called the F15) is merely based on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The E70 generation X5 was a great car but light it was not, and in this age of efficiency it seems questionable whether BMW would base their new flagship on a platform which is essentially over 7 years old already.
However if BMW do launch an X7 model it will be interesting to see what they have up their sleeve for their previously groundbreaking X5 model. With wealthy families potentially moving up to the larger car and the smaller X3 growing into a well-rounded (and much larger) 5 seat crossover, it leaves the X5 at risk of becoming a bit of a lame duck in the vein of cars like the Nissan Murano. The latest X5 has not met with the universal acclaim of its predecessors and so BMW will have to be careful not to alienate fans of those models with a car aimed at empty-nesters with lots of disposable income, profitable as they may be. I would like to think that as Land Rover has managed to do with its line up, that BMW are able to differentiate between the SUV’s…view the X5 as a Range Rover Sport against any X7 as a Range Rover/Discovery mix and you will not be far off what would work very well.
If there is any movement on the BMW X7 I will post an update 🙂
**UPDATE ON 30/03/14**
I was right! BMW have formally announced that they will start producing an X7 at some point over the next few years; they expect production at their US plant to go up from 300k units/year to 450k by late 2016…no doubt assisted by the X7. Nothing else was announced besides the fact that the car WILL be based on the X5/X6 platform akin to the ML/GL relationship.