BMW's high-performance M5 sports sedan is poised to return after a three-year absence.
The new M5 will be made at BMW's 5 series plant in Dingolfing, Germany. It shares the 5 series' body and driveline concept, but is powered by a specially prepared 400hp, 5.0-liter V-8.
Tuned suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels and a six-speed manual gearbox are unique to the M5. A sequential semiautomatic transmission is being considered for future introduction.
The new M5 will arrive at European dealers late this year or in early 1999. Export to the USA will start in autumn 1999. The US version requires more development to comply with safety and emission legislation.
At DM140,000 ($78,000), the M5 costs about 40 percent more than a standard BMW 540. It is also 13 percent more expensive than the old model. But Adolf Prommesberger, chairman of BMW M GmbH, the BMW subsidiary responsible for developing special M-series models, defended the M5's pricing.
'The new model has almost 20 percent more horsepower and eight, rather than six, cylinders,' he said. 'It also features standard air conditioning, leather upholstery and Xenon lights.'
Because it is built at the Dingolfing plant, 'the shared assembly process is an advantage' in lowering costs, said Prommesberger, 'but individual components like leather interiors and tuned engines are still expensive to make.'
Prommesberger describes M5 customers as 'demanding connoisseurs who understand and want exclusive technology.'
He said they like the practicality of four doors and four seats, and they drive more miles than the average driver.
The old M5, which was built in a separate factory, went out of production in 1995, when the mainstream 5 series was replaced with the current model. At its peak, the previous version of the M5 sold about 2,000 units a year.
'Since the M5 has to be profitable, you may assume that we will achieve a similar annual figure - or a little more - with the new version,' said BMW spokesman Thomas Gubitz.
BMW M GmbH has produced 100,000 special M models in 25 years of operation. The BMW subsidiary is a service company with 500 employees and annual revenues of DM300 million.
'We are in fact an independent sub-brand,' said Prommesberger, 'and BMW M models are homologated under our responsibility.'
Prommesberger said M-car customers benefit from BMW's comprehensive dealer network. 'In Germany we have 850 dealers,' he said, 'while Ferrari has 24.'