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BMW to Go Front-Wheel Drive

By Greg Kable of AutoWeek

BMW will end its tradition of rear- and four-wheel-drive only vehicles with a front-wheel drive small car meant to rival the Audi A1.

BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer has confirmed that the German carmaker will introduce a new front-wheel-drive entry-level model positioned and priced below the existing 1-Series as part of plans to help increase part sharing and to bolster the potential for production savings between the BMW and MINI brands, thus bringing an end to the era of rear- and four-wheel-drive-only BMW models.

Speaking to AutoWeek at the Geneva Motor Show, Reithofer said internal BMW studies revealed that despite the downturn in the world's economy, there was continued demand for what he described as "premium vehicles" in the small-car class, before officially acknowledging plans that will see BMW produce a rival to the recently unveiled Audi A1 and a new smart forfour presently under development at Mercedes-Benz.

"We will be extending the BMW and MINI brands into the small-car segment with new models and variants," he said.

Reithofer reconfirmed the plans for front-drive BMWs on Wednesday during the automaker's annual shareholder meeting in Munich.

Compare: Premium Front-Wheel Drive Cars

Being careful to separate the new price-leading front-drive model from BMW's upcoming city car, which is being developed in a different project as part of its Mega City Vehicle electric-car initiative, Reithofer added, "For these new vehicles [the new BMW and MINI] we [are] developing a common architecture for both front- and four-wheel drive."

While exact details remain shrouded in secrecy, AutoWeek can confirm the new entry-level BMW has been conceived to run the same front-drive underpinnings as the next-generation MINI Cooper.

But while the new MINI Cooper isn't due out until 2014, indications are that the small BMW could be on sale as early as 2013 as part of a major thrust by the company to become the undisputed sales leader in the premium small-car class.

Compare: MINI Cooper S vs. Honda Civic Si

News of plans to base the new entry-level BMW on the same platform as the MINI Cooper also raises the question of where the new car would be produced. Although BMW is being vague, indications are it could be built alongside the MINI Cooper in Oxford, England, using a new generation of three- and four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines sourced from BMW's British-based engine factory in Hams Hall.

AutoWeek understands that studies are also under way that could see the new platform structure referred to by Reithofer used for future generations of the 1-Series, although at this stage, BMW is undecided on whether the third-generation model due out in 2018 will be front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive.

"We are looking at alternatives," a Munich insider told AutoWeek. "With the new platform set to support four-wheel drive, it wouldn't be that hard to use the transmission tunnel for a rear-wheel-drive application."

Content provided by AutoWeek.
SOURCE : editorial.autos.msn.com

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