U.S. sales of quirky 5-series GT disappoint BMW

Automotive News reports on the low sales numbers for the BMW 5-series Gran Turismo.

BMW 550i Gran Turismo
A BMW exec hoped the 5-series GT would lure wagon customers. It didn't. Josh Miller/CNET

BMW's 5-series Gran Turismo was meant to be a stylish alternative to minivans and crossovers when it debuted in November 2009. But sales of the tall, quirky five-door have been disappointing.

Now, BMW of North America CEO Jim O'Donnell says he wishes the company hadn't stopped selling the 5-series wagon in the United States last year. BMW had expected the 5-series GT to attract those wagon buyers, but the GT is luring owners of the more-expensive 7-series sedan instead.

"The disappointment I have is that I thought a lot of our 5-series station wagon customers would go with the GT," O'Donnell says. "In point of fact, that is not happening. We have lost those customers to the competition--mainly to Mercedes-Benz.

"The GT has attracted 7- and 5-series customers and conquests," he says, "but not the station wagon customer we had hoped."

In Florida, 10 percent of BMW 7-series owners have replaced their cars with the 5-series GT, O'Donnell says.

The GT uses the platform of the larger 7 series but starts at $57,375 for the 535i GT, while the 7 series starts at $71,525 for the 740i sedan. Prices include shipping.

When the GT was launched in the United States, BMW executives said they expected annual sales of 4,000 to 8,000 units. BMW sold 2,848 GTs in 2010 and just 720 in the first four months of 2011. Sales of the 5-series wagon peaked at 2,351 units in 2005.

The 5-series GT's styling has been controversial. Dealers say some buyers dislike the hatchback configuration and some object to its high rear-end design.

"Americans don't like hatchbacks no matter how much Europeans want us to like them," says John Mantione, general manager of Fields BMW in Winter Park, Fla. "But it's a great value--a 7-series car for the price of the 5 series."

One public dealership group has stopped ordering the GT because of slow sales. Other dealers said they sell one or two GTs a month.

"They just sit there," says Nick Toomey, general manager of Rallye BMW in Westbury, N.Y. "I don't know why it takes a long time to sell."

O'Donnell says he doesn't want to lose wagon sales to Mercedes-Benz so BMW will keep the 3-series wagon in its lineup.

"We are not giving up the 3-series wagon because if you give it up, they will go straight to the competition," he says.

As for bringing back the 5-series wagon, O'Donnell says it may be too late for this generation.

"It's in the back of my mind," he says. "When we do the next generation, maybe we should."

(Source: Automotive News)

 

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