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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 July 2006, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Supercar marks British BMW premiere
By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News, British International Motor Show

German carmaker BMW has returned with a vengeance to the British International Motor Show, after years of shunning the event.

BMW M6 Convertible being unveiled at the show
The M6 Convertible launch marks BMW's first UK premiere

The British market is crucial for all the brands in BMW Group's portfolio, so "it makes sense to take part", BMW chief Helmut Panke told BBC News in an interview.

BMW's flagship show car is the powerful M6 Convertible, the fastest such BMW yet and a guaranteed showstopper at this year's event.

"It is our very first world premiere at a British motor show," said Mr Panke, who is stepping down as chairman of the BMW Group management board on 1 September after four years in the job.

The new chief will be Norbert Reithofer, who is already a board member in charge of production.

Sociological values

The UK launch of the powerful car, which tops out BMW's M-series line-up, is not a coincidence.

For the firm's Mini brand, the UK is the number one market, Mr Panke explains. For its Rolls-Royce marque, it is second. For its BMW-badged cars it is third, after the US and Germany.

But consider M-series sales in isolation and the UK climbs to second place.

Why?

British M-buyers belong to a "certain psycho-graphic target group", Mr Panke believes: to explain the phenomenon, we will need to look to "sociological values".

As can be expected from someone with academic credentials such as Mr Panke's - he holds a doctorate and is a former nuclear scientist - he readily refutes any assertion that British drivers simply like showing off.

Yet, there are differences.

"In Germany the less you show, the better," Mr Panke explains. "De-badging of BMWs start at the top."

Helmut Panke at the motor show in London
Mr Panke is keen to stress the importance of the UK to BMW

In the UK, on the other hand, the ones stripping the badges off their cars tend to be drivers of the cheapest BMWs - "318-drivers", in the words of Mr Panke, though he emphasizes that this is not to say British BMW buyers are more interested in fashion.

"They want the performance," he says. "It starts with the sound. Car enthusiasts in the UK seem to appreciate the dynamic design and the power of these high-performance vehicles."

Business in Britain

BMW's efforts to wow the British are not limited to the sales of cars.

Some colourful surprises start the London Motor show

With factories in Oxford, Swindon and Goodwood, the UK is also the group's second-largest production location after Germany, Mr Panke observes.

BMW employs 6,350 people directly in the UK, on top of 11,000 people working for its dealers.

"This makes the BMW Group one of the country's most important employers," Mr Panke says.

"At the same time, we're a major investor," he adds.

"Since 2000, we have invested more than 800m into the expansion and further development of our British plants."

Much of the expansion in the UK has been overseen by Mr Panke's successor, Mr Reithofer.

Mr Reithofer will be replaced as head of production by Frank-Peter Arndt. In addition, Burkhard Goeschel will step down as head of research, development and purchasing. He will be replaced by Klaus Draeger. The rest of the board of management will remain unchanged.

Professor Joachim Milberg will remain the chairman of the group's supervisory board.


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