Albertville, Minnesota, United States
When you combine two billion citizens, 100 cities with more than a million inhabitants and an economy that's as unrestrained as Jim Cramer on an Adderall binge, China's explosive auto industry growth shouldn't be a huge surprise. Audi already lists the communist country as its largest market, while Mercedes-Benz is expecting it to be there in the next few years. Now, according to a report from Automotive News, BMW is expecting the People's Republic to overtake the United States in sales by the end of 2013.
We already discovered the extent that BMW is going to in establishing a dedicated Chinese stronghold, when we explored BMW's Shanghai-based DesignWorks studio ahead of April's Shanghai Motor Show. And while we argued that DesignWorks Shanghai hasn't really borne fruit, it isn't due to a lack of sales.
BMW China has seen a 16-percent jump in year-over-year sales, lead by a 28-percent gain in 5 Series sales. Part of BMW's growth strategy comes from an ever-expanding dealership network. Remember those 100 cities we mentioned with over one million people? According to Karsten Engel, CEO of BMW's Chinese operations, those 100-million-plus city dwellers don't have access to a premium dealership.
A new survey of top global automotive executives indicates both Volkswagen and BMW are the most likely to grow their market share over the next five years.
Tax advisory firm KPMG LLP has released its 14th annual Global Automotive Executive Survey, which includes responses from over 200 executives. A total of 81 percent of respondents said they expect to see Volkswagen make gains, compared to 70 percent last year. BMW, meanwhile, saw 70 percent of those surveyed say they believe the company will increase its market share. That's a jump of 7 percentage points over last year. This is the first time in the history of the survey that BMW has claimed the second-place spot.
Meanwhile, Hyundai has seen its perceived market share potential slacken for the third year in a row. Around 61 percent of those surveyed predicted gains for Hyundai, down from 63 in 2012. Toyota also has a surprising year, but for just the opposite reason. While the manufacturer had slipped in ranking since 2011, it enjoyed the largest increase of any company in the 2013 survey, jumping to 68 percent from 44 percent last year.
Alpina has been lovingly modifying BMWs for half a century, but as we learned during a tour of the company's HQ in Buchloe, Germany, Alpina has been in the wine distribution business for nearly as long. The company has an estimated million bottles on reserve in two warehouses and a beautiful wine cellar/tasting room on property in western Bavaria, just yards from where its 1,500 hand-crafted automobiles per year are produced.
What does that have to do with the new B6 Gran Coupe? Well, it may help make sense of the overall character of Alpina's automobiles, especially vis-à-vis the similarly priced, similarly powerful M Cars that BMW sells in far greater numbers. Alpinas are built by wine connoisseurs for wine connoisseurs, or wine connoisseur types; they are not rip-snortin' racecars for the road - that's M's domain. Alpinas are esoteric, rich in character and nuanced. But make no mistake: they are very, very fast.
Our brief first drive of the B6 Gran Coupe - the only 6 Series-based Alpina we'll get in the US for 2015 - took place on German autobahns and Austrian alpine roads, where the car is more at home than anywhere in the world, both literally and figuratively. With 540 horsepower and 540 pound-feet of torque on tap from its twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 and xDrive all-wheel drive, the B6 is said to be able to hit 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds on its way to a top speed of 198 mph, a massive 43 mph faster than the M6, which is electronically limited to 155 mph. Yet even at insane speeds - we saw an indicated 190 mph on one particularly lonely stretch of Autobahn - the B6 feels more luxurious than sporty, taking the countenance of a low-slung Bentley Continental GT or an Aston Martin Rapide S, not a knife-edged supercar. It doesn't feel scintillating like a Porsche 911 GT2; rather it feels rock steady, like the 4,780-pound luxury sedan it is.