In time, the company claims front-wheel or all-wheel-drive models based on the UKL — BMW’s version of the Mercedes-Benz MFA or Volkswagen MQB modular architecture — will comprise as much as 40 per cent of the Group’s total global sales, though rear-drive remains its pillar.
“We can count on total Group sales, up to 2020, of up to 40 per cent coming out of small and compact car segment, UKL,” said BMW corporate and government affairs spokesman Kai Lichte. “[But] for BMW, the rear-wheel drive will stay most important by far,” he insisted.
In essence, the BMW Group will eventually be loosely divided into two major architectures that cover the vast bulk of its models, a la Audi with the MQB and MLB. The UKL will underpin all cars between 3.8m and 4.5m long, while a basic rear- and AWD modular architecture will underpin the 3 Series, X3 and beyond.
This means essentially any BMW smaller than a 3 Series could in time be only front- or AWD.
Importantly, the figure of 12 BMWs and 10 Minis is not set in stone, it is merely the number of possibilities with all things being perfect. The company will evaluate each option based on its financial viability.
But the very nature of UKL, with its modularity that allows it to stretch in a number of ways, and its family of three- and four-cylinder transverse engines with many shared parts, makes the prospect of spinning a number of 'top hats' off the basic structure comparatively cost-effective.
“Not everything that is possible we can do. If each derivative makes sense profitably. We won't do everything,” said 2 Series Active Tourer launch manager, and UKL expert, Stefan Karch, speaking to CarAdvice in Austria this week.
Three vehicles using UKL are already extant, being the 2 Series Active Tourer launched this Austria this week, the current-generation Mini three-door hatch and the forthcoming five-door derivation. Next cab off the rank is a seven-seat version of the Active Tourer from the start of 2015.
Also to be based on the UKL, and therefore front-wheel-drive at base level and AWD higher up are the next-generation X1 and 1 Series hatch, the latter of which is due around 2017.
Also expected is a sporty coupe-like crossover version of the X1, called the X2, and even a ‘0 Series micro hatch’ (the UKL can house a car just 3.8m long, remember) that could rival Mini.
“Mini will always be Mini. If we think about having BMW in that segment it would be completely different car,” said Karch, acknowledging that something like a 0 Series could be a possibility.
However, the notion of BMW branching out and creating a Mercedes CLA-rivalling spinoff of the next 1 Series is understood to be less likely.
The benefit of shifting to a widely used front-drive layout, aside from the virtues of economy of scale, are largely packaging and fuel economy, according to Lichte.
“It would also make sense on the next 1 Series because from our customers, we know that 1 Series customers are mainly not focussed on driving dynamics and they criticise that there’s not enough space,” he said.
A side-benefit is that having a proliferation of frugal front-drivers lower BMW’s range-wide CO2 average (Europe imposes a maximum total range average), and therefore allow it to churn out more hardcore sports cars.
But putting aside BMW’s UKL focus, the idea of a front-drive 3 Series any time soon remains anathema to the brand, according to Lichte. Likewise, M Performance cars must also remain rear-drive, or AWD at the least.
“We will stick to rear-wheel drive from the 3 Series onwards, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’s really hard to imagine having a 3 Series on a front-wheel drive platform. We don’t see it for the next 10 years that’s for sure."
“Performance will still be related to rear-wheel drive. For example there wouldn’t be an M version or even an M performance version of a front-wheel drive. That will either be related to all-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive.”