BMW’s redesigned 7-series flagship sedan will use advanced technology to protect its turf in a brutally competitive yet shrinking segment.
The sixth-generation sedan will offer technological features aimed at keeping buyers from defecting to cutting-edge competitors such as the Mercedes-Benz S class, the Audi A8 and Tesla’s Model S.
The 81,900-euro ($92,600) 7 series has technology such as the largest head-up display in the industry, a transmission linked to the navigation system that optimizes performance based on the road, a passenger compartment that uses carbon fiber to save weight, fully autonomous parking and the world’s first use of gesture-recognition controls in a production car.
The gesture controls allow front-seat passengers to use predetermined hand movements to change the volume or answer or dismiss phone calls. The feature can also be customized for certain commands, such as directing the navigation system to guide the driver home. The feature will be standard on all 7-series models.
"With each generation of the 7 series we have brought our customers' needs to the road, adapting accordingly as time moved on," said Harald Krueger, who took the helm at BMW as chief executive last month. "We are responding to the digitalization of modern mobility," Krueger said at the presentation in Munich on Wednesday.
BMW sold 48,480 units of the 7 series in 2014, less than half the 101,428 units of the S class sold by Mercedes but more than the 37,158 Audi A8s sold that year, analysts at IHS automotive said.
IHS analyst Tim Urquhart said, "there is a big chance for BMW to close the gap in performance, comfort and reputational terms for its flagship sedan, as its fair to say the last car was slightly uninspired."
A range of six- and eight-cylinder engines will be available when the 7 series goes on sale in October.
BMW has made use of carbon fiber materials to help make car is 130 kilograms lighter than the current model and boost fuel economy.
The 750i xdrive model consumes 8.1 liters of fuel per 100 km with CO2 emissions of 189 grams per km. The plug-in hybrid model has fuel consumption of 2.1 liters per km and CO2 emissions of just 49 grams per km.
The new model has a sportier look than the current version, with headlights that sweep across to the grille. It will also be able to park itself without anyone at the wheel. To squeeze into tight spaces, drivers can pilot the car with their finger using a separate touch-display key.
Still, all these bells and whistles may not do enough to topple the S class from its perch at the top the luxury-sedan segment.
After sales being on par with the Mercedes flagship model before the S class's 2013 overhaul, the new 7 series will probably remain a distant second and may not match the levels of the previous generation, according to IHS Automotive.
The research firm forecasts 7-series deliveries next year of 64,400 vehicles, compared with 96,100 for the S class, which can drive itself in stop-and-go traffic and offers a back-seat recliner.
Exane BNP Paribas estimates a 10 percent profit margin for the 7 series. While trailing the S class's 14 percent, that's still among the most lucrative in BMW's lineup. The companies don't disclose profitability levels for individual models.
"It's an important product, which can positively and negatively impact the whole brand," said Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. "This car needs to set new standards."
Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report