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BMW set to widen off-road range after launching X5

BMW's X5 'sports activity vehicle', on sale from next month's Birmingham motor show, marks the start of an assault on the 4x4 market.

Senior executives are considering a 3 Series-sized contender, possibly to be called X3, and a larger luxury 7 Series-type model, the X7, for launch around 2003/2004. A spokesman would not confirm plans for the new models but said: “There will probably be a long-wheel base version at some stage.”

The X5 will be available with a 4.4-litre engine from launch, priced £44,000 for the standard model and £44,670 for the sport. BMW claims 1,000 advance orders in the UK. A 3-litre petrol model will go on sale in the spring, priced close to £33,000, joined by a diesel option in early summer for around £32,000. A high-performance version is also being considered, possibly with a 4.6-litre V8 engine.

BMW hopes to sell around 5,000 X5s in the peak year, expected to be 2002. The 3-litre models will each account for 40% of sales with the 4.4-litre taking 20%.

Marketing director Phil Horton said BMW would target Land Rover, Jeep and the Mercedes-Benz M-class. Business would be divided between conquest sales and existing 5 and 7 Series owners looking for a vehicle with off-road ability.

“We also expect to take sales from owners of other executive cars such as the Audi A6 and Mercedes E-class,” added Mr Horton.

Retail buyers will account for about 40% of sales - higher than BMW's usual mix of 70% business, 30% retail. They will include multi-car families and independent professionals, attracted by the on-road performance.

The X5 has been labelled a sports activity vehicle because it “drives like a BMW car, not a 4x4, though it has respectable off-road capabilities”, said Mr Horton.

“Women will be an important customer base - research shows that some 30% of 4x4s are driven by women, even if they are bought or owned by men.”

Mr Horton claimed the X5 had been “designed in-house by BMW engineers”, though he conceded some knowledge from owning Land Rover had “probably rubbed off in the process”. As a result of selling Land Rover to Ford in June, the X5 could now “aggressively target their customers without cannibalising sales”.

BMW's quickest design to manufacture product at 35 months, the X5 was engineered for the vast American 4x4 market. It will be assembled at the Spartanburg plant in South Carolina.

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