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BMW Reaches for Fuel Economy Leadership - But at What Price?

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author photo by Autotrader June 2010

When you think cars with great fuel economy, Japanese automakers like Toyota or Honda may come to mind. Maybe you think of the all-electric Nissan Leaf, the Chevrolet Volt, or Ford's miserly new Fiesta. But what about BMW? Well, it appears that the German automaker is hoping to toss its hat into the ring of fuel-efficient automakers with the addition of several hybrid models in the near future.

In a speech to shareholders Tuesday in Munich, BMW's chief executive and Chairman of the Board Norbert Reithofer outlined BMW's plans for future hybrids, confirming a hybrid 5-Series and hinting at the possibility of others, saying that the company was "anticipating the hybridization" of models such as the BMW 3-Series. While hybrid versions of BMW's high-end X6 SUV and 7-Series sedan recently went on sale, the technology would be much more accessible in less-expensive vehicles like the 3- and 5-Series.

Rival German automakers such as Audi and Mercedes have mostly shunned hybrids in favor of diesels, but have kept the more-efficient diesel engines relegated to large, higher cost vehicles. If BMW does equip the 3- and 5-Series models with hybrid powertrains, Lexus would be its only rival in terms of luxury, fuel-efficient vehicles. Lexus currently offers four hybrids, with plans to add another by the end of the year.

At the 2010 Geneva Auto Show, BMW displayed a concept version of the 5-Series hybrid, featuring an 8-speed automatic transmission mated to a 300-horsepower 6-cylinder gasoline engine coupled with a 54-horsepower electric one. It's unknown exactly how much of the concept will see the light of day, or which engine would be used in a hybrid version of the 3-Series.

It's also unknown how much a hybrid version of the 3- or 5-series would cost. BMW's X6 SUV starts at around $60,000, while the hybrid version comes in at just under $89,000 – a difference of almost 50%. If such an increase is applied to the 3- and 5-Series, a hybrid 3-Series would start at nearly $50,000, while a hybrid 5-Series may retail around $70,000.

For sport sedans, the cost is certainly prohibitive – but the performance of a BMW with hybrid fuel economy may help the brand continue to live up to its motto: The ultimate driving machine.

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BMW Reaches for Fuel Economy Leadership - But at What Price? - Autotrader