BMW revives scooter ambitions as Audi revs up Ducati


Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) has long made powerful motorcycles such as the 193-horsepower S 1000 RR that can be seen screaming down the autobahn. Now, as arch-rival Audi roars into the bike market after buying Italy’s Ducati, BMW is looking to update its two-wheeler image with scooters designed to appeal to a more urbane rider.

BMW is reviving its scooter ambitions nine years after it discontinued the C1, a model with a roof to keep riders dry in rainy weather. The new line is a far cry from underpowered scooters of yore, featuring speed, power, and creature comforts such as heated seats and grips.

“The new scooters offer us a massive sales opportunity,” said Heiner Faust, sales chief for BMW motorcycle. The idea is to attract what the company calls “sleepers” — car owners who rode motorbikes in their youth. “The maxi scooters are the ideal products to activate them,” Faust said.

The expansion into scooters maneuvers BMW — which began building motorcycles in 1923, five years before its first car — away from Ducati. The Italian brand, which enthusiasts consider to be the two-wheel equivalent of Lamborghini, competes at the top end of the market with models such as the euro 28,690 ($35,500) 1199 Panigale S Tricolore.

Since Audi bought Ducati in July, Volkswagen AG’s luxury nameplate has pushed its association with the Italian cycle maker to boost its sporty appeal. This summer, it tied a promotion to the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado and it’s sponsoring a contest in which the winner will get a free trip to California to drive a souped up Audi and ride a Ducati bike.

Sales of powered two-wheelers in Europe tumbled 38 per cent over the past five years to 1.72 million motorcycles and mopeds in 2011, according to data from the region’s motorcycle manufacturers association ACEM. Deliveries in the first half dropped 13 per cent for the industry.

BMW hasn’t been immune to the slump. Its motorcycle sales, including the Husqvarna brand, fell 4.2 per cent in the second quarter. Still, the unit managed an operating profit margin of 11.7 per cent of sales, edging ahead of the auto operations’ 11.6 per cent return.

“Young people associate motorcycles with their grandfather’s generation,” said Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. “The manufacturers have to move away from the old motorcycle image and offer innovative two-wheelers to make riding fashionable again. This is a Herculean task.”

To counter the decline and reach its target of surpassing its 2011 sales, BMW is rolling out the C600 Sport and C650 GT scooters, which went on sale in Europe in July. The 60- horsepower machines have automatic transmissions and a top speed of 175 kilometers (109 miles) per hour.

The lighter and cheaper of the two, the C600 Sport, can accelerate to 100 kilometers per hour in 7.1 seconds — faster than a BMW 3-series sedan — and starts at euro 11,100 in Germany, euro 1,250 more than the base price for the VW Up! compact car.

BMW plans to deliver at least 10,000 scooters next year — equivalent to about 9 per cent of the company’s motorcycle sales in 2011.

In 2014, BMW is planning a further step away from the high- powered image of its highway bikes with an electric scooter. The model, called the C evolution, will use the same lithium-ion battery cells expected to power the German company’s i3 city car, which is due to go on sale next year.

In that market, BMW will face competition from Daimler AG’s urban Smart brand, which will introduce an electric version of the fortwo car later this year. The company makes an electric-powered bicycle that costs euro 2,849 ($3,507) in Germany and will go on sale in the US next year. In 2014, Smart plans to add an e-scooter to its lineup.

“E-scooters are an opportunity to test the technology on a large scale,” said Richard Viereckl, a partner with consulting company Management Engineers in Dusseldorf. To lower the average fuel consumption of their fleets and meet tighter environmental standards, manufacturers “will need e-mobility.”