GENEVA -- BMW hopes to launch a successor to the Z4 roadster before the end of the decade, the automaker’s chief engineer told Automotive News Europe during the Geneva auto show last week.
Development costs could be shared with Toyota as part of the automakers’ cooperation, which includes a common sports car architecture, collaboration on powertrain electrification and pooling of r&d on lightweight technologies.
BMW is seeking a cost-effective way to update the car as global demand for two-seat roadsters and coupe drops because of dwindling customer demand.
“If you look at the volume … we have to realize that these segments are shrinking,” Froehlich said, adding that the body type is not popular in the world’s largest market.
“[Car buyers in China] are not interested in roadsters,” said Froehlich, who was named development chief at BMW last December after Herbert Diess left the company. Diess will take over as Volkswagen brand CEO in July.
In China, car buyers favor privacy, which would be compromised when driving with an open top. Also, poor air quality is a major problem in many of the country's cities.
In Europe, roadsters are typically a second or third car in a household, but since the region has suffered for year from a weak economy fewer people have had the means to invest in something that is non-essential.
Z4 sales declined by 11 percent to about 5,300 cars in Europe last year, according to data from JATO Dynamics. BMW said it U.S. volumes for the Z4 fell 13 percent to 2,150 cars. Typically the three biggest markets for the segment are the U.S., UK and Germany, in that order, Froehlich added.
As a result, priority to develop a newer version of the current second-generation Z4, which replaced its predecessor in 2009 after nearly seven years on the market, appears not to be high relative to other models in the brand’s pipeline.
“I would like to see a Z4 successor in this decade,” the BMW development chief said when asked about the timing of the Z4’s replacement.
Last year, BMW rival Audi scaled back its sales expectations for its latest TT as a result of shrinking overall demand in the segment.
While Audi sold 250,000 units each of the first- the second-generation TTs, sources at the automaker have said it is not realistic to expect the third-generation model to achieve the same. Instead they are hoping to increase the TT’s share of the segment.
Market researcher IHS Automotive has forecast peak output of about 40,000 to 42,000 units for the new TT coupe and roadster, compared with 56,000 units for the second-generation version.
In addition, Volkswagen said late last month that it will cease production of its Eos folding hardtop convertible by June at the latest.