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CAR confidential: BMW pushing sales forward

Want to know BMW’s new year resolution? Push 2006’s 1.35m (est) sales up to 1.6m by 2010.

Isn’t this a huge risk? After all, Mercedes-Benz ballooned from niche player to having the largest range of any carmaker – at the expense of quality and product consistency. Some customers voted with their feet, and Mercedes is now playing catch up to BMW.

“We haven’t reached the sales magnitude where we devalue the brand,” says BMW sales and marketing guru Michael Ganal. “Some might walk away from us to exotic niche brands but there are still millions dreaming of owning a BMW.”

This year will herald the UK market introductions of the all-new X5 and a 3-series convertible with a folding steel roof. But 2007 is M division’s year. An M5 Touring is due imminently. It wraps the saloon’s 500bhp V10 drivetrain, muscular bodykit and chassis mods up in the estate bodystyle.

This five-door will be offered in right-hand drive, so Audi’s RS6 Avant will have a rival.

But the key brand builder will be the new M3 coupé. And with the new car costing close to £50,000, that’s a nice little earner for BMW dealers. The price rise is down to a performance hike: the M3 will run a 420bhp all-new V8 derived from the M5’s V10.

The look is more restrained than the E46 M3’s – but mesh-packed grilles, M division gills, quad tailpipes and a rear plate relocated in the bumper all ring the changes.

Sources say the V8’s redline is pegged at 8,200rpm, with the engine stirred by a six-speed manual or seven-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox with auto mode. And the 0-62mph sprint will be despatched in 4. 9sec, while 174mph would be possible were the two-door not limited to 155mph.

What a prospect. It should lure punters into showrooms. And if they can’t stretch to an M3, they can ponder a new entry-level BMW – the three-door 1-series – which also gets a mild facelift in 2007.

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