We drove the Opel Grandland X: driving pleasure enhanced with (s)pace and grace…

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Opel has some impressive cards up its sleeve in the compact SUV segment, and the most recent addition to the range, the Grandland, hits all the stops: it is stylish, roomy, comfortable and offers genuine driving pleasure. It revealed itself as a comfortable and smooth urban cruiser as well as a zesty and fast tourer on the open road. Op top of all that, it remained quite frugal too…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We spoke with Jean-Philippe Parain, Senior Vice President at BMW of the Sales Region Europe, on the future of BMW in Europe.

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Dear reader, here follows the first interview in a series, were we talk in depth about the future of European and global car makers. BMW is the first brand entering the arena…

Q1: What were/are your challenges in the European market outside Germany?

A: Of course, the biggest challenge in 2017 was the situation in the UK, because with the Brexit we had a very difficult and volatile market. We had an excellent first quarter, this was still before the real effect of the Brexit took hold, and also then there was a tax change on the first of April, and after that it (the market) was really a mess, we had to be very careful in choosing the channels in which we sold our cars, because we saw a big drop of the residual values, we saw a big pressure on the Diesel used car market, we had to work very closely with our retail partners, with our dealers, to avoid making the wrong decisions and that we produce too much cars for this market. So we had to monitor and steer this market very carefully.

So that was also the biggest market in my region, it accounts for more or less 30 pct of my region.  It was a big challenge for me that despite the situation in the UK, to reach another record sales figure for my region.

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We also saw a strong growth in the south of Europe, on the one end inflated by the share of the rental market, last but not least because of the tourist boom in Spain and Italy in the wake of the terrorist threat, but the real private market was not that strong. We wanted to maintain our market share, but we do not want to go (too strongly) into the rental market, so this was a very difficult exercise to find the opportunities, the right channel. We want to go strongly into the fleet market, which is very important for us. We are investing a lot into our processes, into our structures to be performing in the fleet market. Speaking of political uncertainties, Cataluña is also something that has hit us at the end of 2017.

The second thing is diesel, we have seen a big shift of demand in markets like France, UK, the UK is the biggest change together with Germany, the share of diesel for premium brands have even gone down to close to 50 %, in France it remained quite high but went down as well, the total market is already close to 50 %, the premium segment still around 70 %, but went down from 95 %, so also there, you have to make the right shifts in your production capacity towards petrol and plug-in hybrid and electric cars.

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The further challenge is how do you manage the used car market and the resale values, and last but not least there is also the lobbying towards the political circles because in our opinion, diesel is more part of a solution than part of the problem, the diesel engine is still very efficient, we believe that we have non manipulated and clean diesel engines. But the whole industry has been concerned indirectly. The French election then was rather positive for the market. Overall, despite the good macroeconomic environment, we are still dependent on the political developments. That is something we need to anticipate. The other thing is that we have grown considerably in volume in electric cars and plug-in hybrids.

Q: Are you satisfied here with the sales results?

A: Yes we are, 103.800 sold electrified vehicles sold, that is almost as much as Tesla, we are leader in the premium segment in that field, we have a big share in the total market, in Norway for example,  we have now 60 % of our volume sold there as electric or plug in hybrids. We had also very good growth in France and in the UK. With the latest tax changes there is a big increase in demand for plug in hybrid and electric cars in the UK now, overall we have not enough production capacity for the i3’s, we have long lead times now. We are now number 2 behind the Zoe, which is great for a car in the premium segment.

Q: Aren’t you worried that the diesel market contracts too fast?

A: We think that now this trend will continue, but it will be more managed, there will be a more softer or gradual evolution.

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Brothers in arms: Jean-Philippe Parain alongside Peter Henrich, presently President and CEO of BMW Belux.

Q: Indeed, BMW’s are valuable, well made products with a long service life, so political developments affecting their value are very important…

A: Indeed, our CEO Harald Krüger made at the last IAA an important statement that we are there to make quality cars which stand out for their technical excellence and that we stand firm in our shoes as manufacturers and stay clear from any manipulation.

Q: So you are very pleased with the sales results of the electric/electrified cars?

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Driving pleasure will remain paramount, also in autonomous driving…

A: Yes, we have a high demand, we would need even more models, for example we have not yet a compact SUV with the plug in hybrid drivetrain, but we have already a very wide range and the arrival of the Mini Plug In Hybrid Countryman is also a very good complement to the BMW brand.

Q: Of course, you are looking also the high-end market…

A: First of all we are number one in Europe with the 7 series, around 20 pct more than the S class, and we have the new 8 series which will come later this year, and we have the X7 which will really build up our portfolio in this segment. Mercedes is now selling 60-70.000 GLS worldwide, so this will be also a very important segment for us, as well as the 8 series.

Q: I think it is also a challenge in marketing, that  you make the public aware of new concepts like Reach Now, Charge Now, Drive Now…

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A: For sure, I had the pleasure to launch Drive Now in Brussels in the summer 2016, it is a successful operation now in Brussels. We would like to expand in Europe, we are currently discussing with Madrid, Rome, Milan

Q: It cannot go fast enough…

A: Well, it is not always a smooth ride. There are a lot of discussions in Paris, as you know there is Autolib, so it is not always an easy entry and to be well aligned with the authorities, even in Brussels it took some time to achieve that, but we are really satisfied, we have a good cooperation with the team here from Drive Now. It reaches a lot of people who have never driven BMW’s before, so that I truly very interesting for us.

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Q: I also heard that in the 2 series, 70 pct of the customers are new to BMW…

A: Indeed, exactly. It is also noteworthy that 40 pct of the volume of these 2 series is indeed the hybrid version, so that is significant. This segment is now a bit under pressure from the SUV segment, so more and more people now buying the active tourer will move to the SUV segment, that is why the renewal of our X range, with the X3, X2 and later in the year the new X5, is very important.

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Q: One last question, autonomous driving, you have a special view on that, in the sense that you want it to be active autonomous driving, could you comment this further?

A: We are very active in this field, we will see soon iNext, our BMW i product in 2021, we will bring a new benchmark in the market in terms of autonomous driving, we have successfully invested in a new center in the north of Munich and hired many engineers, started cooperation with Intel and Mobileye, which is one of the benchmark co operations in the industry, and we are confident that we will be leading the pack in terms of autonomous driving technology.

We thank you for this interview.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Our Volvo 850 receives new roofstrips…

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Our Volvo now looking “nearly as new” after receiving new roofstrips thanks to the gracious intervention of Volvo Car Belux and dealer Guy Vermant…

The faithful Volvo turns his rounds, after its enjoyable summer trips to Sweden and South of France. It passed recently the Belgian annual(!) official technical control with flying colors and is now fit for service for another year. When it was proudly rolling  of the production line in Torslanda last summer it received admiring looks from the Volvo people there. Of course, the roofstrips shared the fate of many on older 850’s and V70’s, and this was the only manifest flaw on our otherwise relatively pristine Volvo.

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Our Volvo in the premises at Vermant Mechelen dealership where in March a special classic car service will be opened…

The Volvo people, both the official importer and Volvo dealer Guy Vermant took this to heart and thanks to their gracious efforts and intervention, our Volvo got new roofstrips, giving it now the coveted “nearly as new” appearance.

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The weathered old strips were carefully removed…

Our Volvo received the new strips in a new wing of Guy Vermant’s Malines dealership, where Guy Vermant will start up next March a classic car service, catering not only for classic Volvo’s, but other makes as well.

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We already could see here the impressive and well equipped workshop and facilities, admiring also the expertise and workmanship of classic car expert Ruben Bosch (on the left) and his colleague Dave Siebens, who mounted the roofstrips with utmost care and an eye for perfection. Their “savoir faire” truly bodes well for this future classic car service!

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Here they both pose proudly before a 1960 Volvo PV 544, wich is still in totally original condition, having led a sheltered life, and which is now being awakened out of a 20 year beauty sleep…

We will tell more about this new service soon, when it will be introduced at the 41st edition of the Antwerp Classic Salon, which will be held at Antwerp Expo from 2 to 4 March.

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Our Volvo posing proudly before Vermant’s classic car service workshop, to be opened in March…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

Volvo brings its XC40 to the Brussels Show…and meets avid buyers.

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On the introduction of the XC40 at the Brussels Show, Managing Director of Volvo Belux, Wim Maes, commented on future plans and commercial results…

In November last year, the production of Volvo Cars’ first ever small premium SUV started off at the Volvo Cars plant in Ghent. The car is meeting great interest, and indeed orders are streaming in by the thousands already.

With the XC40, Volvo completes its SUV line-up, and gets a firm foothold in the fastest growing segment of the automotive industry. Together with the XC60 and de XC90, Volvo has a strong set of cards indeed in this segment…

We saw the XC40 for the first time “in the flesh” here, and indeed it looks pleasing and well balanced.

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At the presentation of the XC40, managing director of Volvo Belux, Mr. Wim Maes, commented on the car and the commercial results and perspectives of Volvo both globally and for the Belgian market, together with the Managing Director of the Ghent plant, Eric Van Landeghem.

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Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Brussels Motor Show 2018: witnessing the European Premiere of the BMW X2…

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Needing some extra photos of BMW people we interviewed, and of which you will read much more soon on these columns, we took the occasion to witnessing the remarkable premiere of the BMW X2 on the Brussels Show.

It was a stunning spectacle, and we just show you here the photos we took, just to let you get a “feel” of what was happening on the BMW stand on January 15 at palace 7 of the Show.

Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Already since the press day, on Wednesday 10 january, the countdown to the premiere was started off, by pushing a red button by Jean-Philippe Parain, Senior Vice-President Sales Europe BMW (left) and Peter Henrich, President and CEO of BMW Group Belux.

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We show you here also the last minutes and seconds of the countdown, where already two all white painted male dancers took centre stage,

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with an enormous spider-mannequin tucking discreetly behind the curtains of the stand, to prepare his performance…

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A dancer all painted in gold then entered the central stage, wrapped also in a long gold curtain, awaiting the last seconds, and then with a baseball bat virtually broke the windows so to speak, to reveal the blue and yellow colored BMW’s.

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But before the final curtain fell, there was still a performance act with the long legged enormously impressive spider-mannequin and the two white painted dancers.

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A stunning show, which amply reveals how much care and attention automotive brands invest in presenting their products…

Right after the introduction, the automotive press assailed the BMW PR people, and here Corporate Communications Manager Christophe Weerts is answering questions…

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Soon we will report further on what was to be seen at the Brussels show, alongside with the interesting interviews and talks we had, as we announced you in the previous post.

So stay tuned!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

A range of interviews with a focus on BMW and MINI… its cars and its (electric) future.

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On the Brussels Salon, Dr. Peter Henrich, President and CEO of BMW Group Belux presented us the new i8 roadster, and his dynamic PR Team arranged for us a range of interviews…

The Brussels Salon was an excellent occasion this year to make some very interesting interviews and have some in depth face to face talks and discussions with the people who are shaping our automotive future and individual mobility.

At the 2018 edition of the Brussels Show we focused on BMW and Mini, last but not least thanks to the very dynamic and pro-active PR team of BMW Belux, notably Christophe Weerts, Corporate Communcations Manager and Saschia De Rudder, Corporate Communications, who kindly invited us to have talks and interviews with their important people who visited the Brussels Show.

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Dr. Peter Henrich greeting here Jean-Philippe Parain, stepping here out of the brand new facelifted BMW 2 series Active Tourer…

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Jean-Philippe Parain presenting the many qualities of the BMW 2 series and lifting a veil on the forthcoming novelties, like the X2, which will presented on January 15… 

So we had an interview met Jean-Philippe Parain, Senior Vice-President Sales Europe BMW, zooming in on the BMW sales results in the European market outside Germany,

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Sebastian MacKensen showed us the new MINI’s and a prototype of its full electric version…at the Brussels Show. 

then we had an in depth discussion with Sebastian Mackensen, Senior Vice-President MINI, on the MINI brand and its (bright) future, and we concluded the day with Armin Hultzsch, Head of Project BMW 2 Series Active Tourer/Gran Tourer, Marcus Tauchen, Project Management Office BMW 2 Series Active Tourer/Gran Tourer and Pascale Goudvis, Product Management BMW 2 Series Active Tourer/Gran Tourer. There the 2 series bestseller(s) took centre stage, and we discussed the many challenges involved in designing, developing and producing these impressive BMW’s which represent for some 70 pct of the buyers a first acquaintance with the brand.

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Dr. Peter Quitus, on the left of this picture, in discussion with us, together with Dr. Peter Henrich on the right…

To deepen out things further, we were also invited to participate in two round table discussions, one with Peter Quintus, Sales Manager BMW M GmbH, and secondly but last but not least a long discussion about BMW’s electrification successes, and its future plans and projects in this field, with Robert Irlinger, Senior Vice-President BMWi.

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Dr. Peter Irlinger, discussing with us the electric future of BMW…

Soon you will be treated in these columns to the full interviews and the many interesting insights which were developed here.

Needless to say that the subjects will form an interesting platform for further discussions, and we will deepen them further out over the year, widening them throughout our automotive world.

Stay tuned!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

 

 

We drove the Lexus RC300h: stylish and sporting refinement …

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The Lexus brand truly stands for refinement. They drive smoothly, and are truly awe-inspiring in their hybrid form. But that is not all, they come now also with style. And this coupé has plenty of it. Bold, inspiring shapes, both inside and out.

We drove this coupé in hybrid version, and this is where Lexus truly shows superb state of the art mechanical know  how. Many Lexus buyers won’t have it otherwise. And we understand them. Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Mercedes GLC 250d 4Matic: the (b)right star on all your roads…

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When the oldest car manufacturer in the world brings out a compact SUV, or any SUV for that matter, you can expect something truly special. The GLC proves again the case, admirably. This three starred gem is to be seen as a direct competitor to the Audi Q5 and the BMW X3, and the competition is heating up as the X3 has been revamped completely quite recently. Our test car came with the more powerful 204 HP version of the trusted 2,1 liter Diesel engine, and was stealing admiring looks in its iridium silver livery. And it had a lot more up its sleeve, just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Koleos dCi 175 X-tronic 4WD: French flair on any road…

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Renault has given the latest generation Koleos bold new curves. But besides the good looks, it received a thorough make over in cabin design, with of course also a further rejuvenation in electronics and mechanics. We described already in an earlier report the new Koleos at its introduction, and now we were able to drive the dynamic and lively 2 liter 177 HP Diesel version. Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the Kia Optima SW PHEV: the joys of clever propulsion…

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They are coming our way in increasing numbers: the plug in hybrids, and rightly so. They bring the environmental friendliness of “pure” E power, combined with the unlimited action range and economy of a hybrid, with the added bonus of charging through the grid. The Kia engineers also decided to have a go, and put forward the stylish Optima, also in the estate version. We truly enjoyed it, just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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