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High 5! BMW launches a new model here just as global sales are rebounding

Driven by retail therapy, strong third-quarter deliveries for BMW bode well for its new 5 Series here.

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The new 5 Series is the first BMW here to work with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wirelessly. It has a lane departure warning system and can also gently steer itself back into lane if it strays.

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"We believe the increase in sales is a combination of a strong line-up of models and a bit of 'retail therapy' for customers who were unable to physically view and test drive cars." - Christopher Wehner, managing director of BMW Asia.

Singapore

WITH a worldwide pandemic still upon us, you might think this is a lousy month to launch a luxury sedan. But BMW's latest sales figures suggest that if anything, the timing couldn't be better.

A new version of the German brand's 5 Series officially went on sale here on Oct 1, at S$299,888 (inclusive of certificate of entitlement) for the 530i M Sport Edition. That is the one version approved for sale in Singapore so far, with cheaper 520i and less dressy 530i variants awaiting the all-clear from the Land Transport Authority to join the BMW line-up alongside it.

While BMW attempts to woo buyers with the new 5 Series here, its parent company BMW Group reported third-quarter sales on Wednesday. The numbers show that even though buyers had to stay away earlier in the year, they came roaring back with a vengeance come July.

The brands that make up the group - BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce - saw sales in the July-to-September quarter jump 8.6 per cent year-on-year, with 675,680 collective deliveries around the globe.

Year-to-date sales are still down 12.5 per cent to 1.64 million cars, thanks to lockdowns and temporary plant closures during the worst of the Covid-19 crisis.

In Singapore, the picture is similar. After circuit breaker measures caused showrooms to shut for months, there were only 1,181 BMW registrations from January to June. In just July and August, there were 989 registrations.

"We've seen positive recovery in Singapore since entering Phase 2," says Christopher Wehner, the managing director of BMW Asia. "We believe the increase in sales is a combination of a strong line-up of models and a bit of 'retail therapy' for customers who were unable to physically view and test drive cars, thereby delaying purchases, during the circuit breaker and Phase 1 periods."

Mr Wehner says the effects of Covid-19 have varied around the world. "Recovery is different from market to market," he says. "Influencing factors include, for example, how well the government is managing the Covid-19 situation, the structure and strength of the economy, how hard different sectors were hit by the pandemic, and how much the government is able to invest in supporting the economy."

BMW Group reported that year-to-date sales in Asia are actually up overall, having risen 3 per cent to 704,523 cars. China, which is BMW's biggest single market, has recovered the fastest, with third-quarter deliveries soaring 31.1 per cent and helping year-to-date sales climb 6.4 per cent to 559,681 cars.

In contrast, Europe's numbers are down 19.7 per cent (to 648,107 cars) over the same period, while the US market has contracted 24.6 per cent (199,571).

As for the 5 Series, Mr Wehner describes it as a "very important" model. "In addition to the fact that it's by far one of the best-selling models in Singapore, the 5 Series is the quintessential BMW, along with the 3 Series," he tells The Business Times.

A mid-life revamp for the car has given it new headlights and taillamps, along with redesigned bumpers and a new grille design. The car has also gained connectivity and driver assistance features.

The new 5 Series is the first BMW here to work with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wirelessly. It has a lane departure warning system and can also gently steer itself back into lane if it strays.

Also new are engines with mild hybrid technology, which uses a 48-volt motor and battery system to boost acceleration and reduce fuel consumption. Early next year, BMW Asia will launch the 530e, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) that takes that idea further. It has a larger battery and more powerful motor so it can be driven electrically, but also has a petrol engine for longer drives.

"The 530e PHEV has an electric range of 62 to 67km and is the perfect car for Singapore, and a great way to experience electromobility while still having the combustion engine for travelling longer distances," Mr Wehner says.

In other markets, BMW is seeing surging demand for its electrified cars. Sales of its pure-electric and PHEV models rose 20 per cent in the first nine months of this year, and are still rising.

But it remains an open question whether the 530e will make the same splash in Singapore, where BMW's plug-in cars have struggled to gain traction.

"The journey to electrification is not a sprint, but a marathon," Mr Wehner says. "We believe Singapore has made some significant strides, but there is potential to do much more. In addition to a mature charging infrastructure, additional government support in the form of subsidies or other benefits would encourage more customers to make the switch."

Electrified cars might remain a tough sell until those factors fall into place, but as BMW's ongoing recovery suggests, timing is everything.

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