IF THE BMW C1 were a car, it would be the leanest automotive operation on the planet. BMW will make none of the parts and do none of the assembly. It contributes the idea, some of the engineering, the marketing and the name.
The C1 is in form a two-wheeled motor scooter, but it is intended as an extra car.
'In Mediterranean countries, the advantages of light motorcycles as alternative means of transportation are already recognized,' said Hans Sautter, spokesman for BMW's motorcycle division. 'We expect the C1 to be used as a second or third vehicle in the family.'
The C1 was conceived at BMW's advanced Technik subsidiary in 1992, then handed over to its motorcycle division for further feasibility studies. In April 1997, the BMW board gave it the green light for production in 2000.
Prototypes were shown at last September's Frankfurt auto show. The C1 is currently in its final development stage.
In a way, the C1 project is for BMW what the Micro Compact Car Smart is for Daimler-Benz. It is both a product aimed at the future needs of cities, and a laboratory for running a company differently.
The C1 project is extremely lean.
BMW is buying all the parts from partners, who share the development costs.
Rotax-Bombardier in Austria is developing the 15hp, four-stroke, 125cc, single-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission. Carrozzieria Bertone in Turin will assemble all components and systems, around an aluminum space frame.
The C1 engine will feature digital engine management, fuel injection and a catalytic converter. The body features a roll-over safety cage and seat belts strong enough that in Germany, drivers will not need to wear crash helmets.
'We will coordinate every operation to our standards, and take final responsibility and financial risks,' said Sautter.
Investment 'will be between DM50 million and DM100 million ($28 million to $56 million),' said Sautter, 'depending on how development processes progress over the next two years.'
Just as Daimler-Benz started early to teach the public about its Smart and its A-class, BMW will start marketing the C1 early.
'We will soon start communicating this new mobility concept and its multiple applications with advertising in Germany,' said Sautter.
BMW's motorcycle dealers and car dealers will sell the C1 for about DM10,000.
The C1 may be sold in Japan, but probably not the USA.
'It is not likely that we will bring C1 to the USA,' said Sautter, 'where the need for compact transportation in inner cities is not felt.'
He said consumer protection legislation and product liability questions could make US sales not worth the risk.