The BMW E39 5 Series – A Car That Changed The Automotive World Forever

It’s 1996 and you’re sitting in your living room watching the Olympics. During a commercial break, BMW’s award winning commercial for their redesigned BMW 5 Series shows the streets of New York City flooded with water, but most notably boats floating up and down city streets with the E39 540i navigating its way trough maritime traffic. It’s possible that at this point in time, the viewers who saw this commercial that summer had no idea of the ramifications the 5 Series would have on the automotive industry, while also ushering in an era of European luxury cars dominating the market.

Before dissecting this commercial and then fast forwarding to the present day, 1996 was a year of transition for the American auto market. Japanese manufacturers like Toyota and Honda are continuing to grab market share away from Ford, GM, and Chrysler due to their cheaper and practical cars, which is creating a seismic shift in consumer behavior as even in the mid 90’s, Americans were still loyal to auto manufacturers based in Detroit. As history tells us 20 years later, this transition will continue at a rapid pace leading to Toyota and Honda becoming prominent brands in the US Market.

It’s in this same year that BMW, Mercedes Benz, and Porsche unleash two seater convertibles: the Z3, SLK Class, and the Boxster. The Z3, already receiving notoriety after being featured in the James Bond movie “GoldenEye”, arrives at BMW showrooms shortly after the release of the movie. The Porsche Boxster will soon play a significant role in the German brand’s emergence in the US, and is just one of the few surprises Porsche is going to release within the next 10 years. The Mercedes Benz SLK is often the forgotten one out of the three, mostly due to the Z3 getting the spotlight, but also by the new millennium the redesigned SL is going to take center stage, overshadowing the SLK’s existence.

However, there’s still one segment Ford and GM own with a tight grip, and that’s the luxury sedan market. Lincoln, Mercury, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Chrysler (to an extent) are the old giants that stand in the way, and BMW is ready to accept the challenge with their E39 5 Series.

Back to analyzing the commercial, the boats signify the American luxury cars of the day. We can joke about the modern day Challenger being a boat, but the Lincoln Town Car and Continental, Mercury Grand Marquis, Cadillac Deville and Fleetwood were all bigger cars with boxy exteriors. Seeing the BMW weave through traffic with ease was meant to show it’s maneuverability, and not be a huge car that couldn’t get out of its own way. The last statement made in that commercial was, “Why float through life, when you can drive?”. This would resonate with younger consumers who really had a limited selection of luxury cars to choose from, especially if they didn’t want to drive cars their grandparents and aging parents owned.

The E39 540i/M5 wasn’t just a four door performance car that even today we marvel at, but the E39 in general was a luxury sedan that would reshape the automotive industry forever. In 1996, Mercedes Benz and Audi hadn’t found their way yet, but they too would be emboldened to compete with BMW by the end of the decade. This would then lead us to almost 18 years of competition between the German brands, which eventually dragged Jaguar, Maserati, and Volvo into the mix by 2014. But I’m getting way ahead of myself.

The 540i that was shown in that commercial was priced at $50k, but the 5 Series in 1996 had a base price of around $38k which was right in line with American luxury sedans. While the US economy was very different 22 years ago, the slow progression to European luxury cars dominating the market can easily be attributed to the E39 5 Series, and it was the beginning of bigger and better vehicles from Germany that would continue to put nails in the coffin of American automotive giants that ruled for over 60 years.

BMW E39 540i
BMW E39 540i

Too often we look at the E39 from a performance aspect, and some believe that the Chevrolet SS is the only car since 1996 that most resembles the E39 5 Series. However, when it comes to defining a luxury sedan, that’s where BMW reshaped an entire segment. Luxury cars in the 90’s were boats, much like their predecessors before them. While cars were slowly downsizing, the E39 accelerated the change by not only being smaller than a Lincoln or Cadillac, but also being sporty. If we walk into dealership showrooms today, luxury cars come with optional sports appearance packages and engines putting out impressive horsepower numbers. It wouldn’t be a stretch to go back 20 years and attribute that to the 540i.

Indirectly, the success of the 5 Series kickstarted the beginning of an arms race between the German auto manufacturers which then got the rest of Europe involved by the late 2000’s to early 2010’s. Mercedes Benz and Audi started producing sleek cars to compete against BMW, Jaguar then replaces the S-Type with the XF and later the XE enters showrooms, Maserati releases the Ghibli, Alfa Romeo reemerges in the US with the Giulia, and now under the ownership of Geely, Volvo is ready to be a legitimate threat to German manufacturers with a very impressive redesigned S60.

Jaguar, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Volvo were really niche brands, and even today they still are to an extent. I’m not going to downplay the effect crossovers have had on these brands, which is a story for another day as BMW and Mercedes Benz could be the patriarchs of a luxury SUV craze that swept through an entire industry with the X5 and ML Class hitting the market in 1998-1999. However, the E39 has certainly played a role, whether directly or indirectly, in the decision to produce four door sports cars that also have luxury car qualities, and the Audi B9 S4 is the perfect example of that.

At the end of the day, no matter which car you want to pinpoint as the culprit for the modern day four door luxury sedan, the E39 5 Series challenged the status quo, making luxury cool for younger consumers and not just a vehicle for aging Americans 65 and older. The performance side of the 540i/M5 certainly helped grab attention from drivers who wanted an exhilarating and engaging driving experience. This car’s massive impact on the automotive industry shouldn’t be overlooked, and as car enthusiasts who now have a variety of luxury sports sedans to choose from, we owe that to the E39 5 Series.

Under Geely, Lotus Could Be A New Player In The Crossover Game

It appears that to make a grand entrance in the automotive world of the 21st century you must unveil an entire line of crossovers. For the British car maker most renown for their small and light sports cars, crossovers are the key to their future success. Geely, who not only saved, but revitalized Volvo to being a serious competitor for German auto manufacturers in the crossover segment, now has ambitions to do the same for Lotus.

What’s really interesting about this development is not the fact that Geely has plans for two crossovers and a full sized SUV by 2022 for Lotus, but that these vehicles will be built on the same platforms that are used for the Volvo XC60 and XC90, and possibly the XC40 depending on the size of their new crossovers. Automotive brands have shared platforms for a while, but I’d venture to say this is unprecedented for the simple reason that Lotus and Volvo are two completely different companies and that the ownership group isn’t Ford, GM, and Volkswagen. Geely is changing the game right before our eyes, and these new crossovers may not just share the same body.

There’s very little information out there pertaining to what Lotus’ crossovers will look like or what we can expect for performance, but there has been some speculation that the same engines that are put into Volvo’s might be under the hood of Lotus vehicles early next decade. For instance, the XC60 and XC90 come with three engine options, with the T8 eAWD Plug-in Hybrid engine getting an eyebrow raising 400 hp and 472 lb ft of torque.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves with performance, Lotus has expressed that their DNA will be incorporated into the next generation of vehicles for the British manufacturer. This would suggest that these crossovers may be light and easily maneuverable, which is certainly not an attribute Volvo shares with Lotus. This would then raise the question on whether we’ll see a T8 put into a Lotus crossover or we should expect the XC40’s T4 and T5 engines that from a historical point of view, would make more sense for a brand that has sold lightweight and low horsepower sports cars, unless the Evora 400 is the bench mark moving forward.

Outside of platform sharing, this is all purely based on speculation and we have two or three years before we’ll find out the specifications of these new models. Many will probably roll their eyes at the idea of having yet another crossover on the road, but if Lotus is being completely honest with us about maintaining their DNA, these new vehicles might have some personality in a segment filled with soulless daily drivers.

Auto Sales Get Decimated In October – A Sign Of Things To Come?

The month of October was not friendly to most car manufacturers, as overall sales in the United States dropped 6%. This sharp drop can be attributed to volume sellers who saw declines that haven’t been posted in quite sometime. Is this a reason for concern moving forward? Is a slowing auto market going to be the new reality that manufacturers will face for at least the short term? New car sales have been slowing over the past few months, but October’s sudden drop in overall sales is nothing that should be taken lightly.

It should be noted that October of 2016 had two fewer selling days than October of 2015, but with some of the percentages that were posted, not even two extra selling days could change the outcome of a bleak new car market.

Fiat-Chrysler Massacre

It has not been a good year for the Fiat-Chrysler group, and October magnifies the downward trend in sales for most of the brands. Chrysler posted a decline of 44.7%, Fiat down 24.3%, Dodge -16.4%, and Jeep -6.6%. Three out of the four brands listed are down on the year for new car sales, while Jeep is still maintaining an increase of 9.7%. With Dodge ending the Dart and Chrysler no longer producing the 200, sales figures being down was to be expected, but for the auto group as a whole, there’s not much excitement for any of the brands, besides Dodge which produces the Challenger and Charger.

BMW, Volkswagen, Volvo and Land Rover Experience Sales Decline

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Volvo and Land Rover, two manufacturers who are both up on the year in new car sales in the United States, saw sharp declines in the month of October. Volvo, a brand that has been revived thanks to the all new S90 and completely redesigned XC90, experienced a 14.6% drop in sales. Land Rover saw a decline of 23.2% in October. Despite the sharp drop in sales in the United States, Volvo and Land Rover are still having a fantastic year overall, and shouldn’t be too concerned about the final quarter of the year, unless lower sales figures overall in the automotive market becomes a trend.

BMW may be the biggest surprise for lower volumes in sales, not only for October, but for the year of 2016. Down 18.4% last month, and down 9% for the year, BMW is the only brand out of the big three luxury manufacturers in Germany that has experienced declines. Mercedes Benz and Audi are still strong, and while sales were flat in October, the loss of two sales days could be a contributing factor. Volkswagen on the other hand has not recovered from Diesel Gate, and with a loss of 13.5% on the year and another double-digit loss last month, it just continues to get worse for the German auto brand.

Bentley, Jaguar, Maserati, and Porsche Have Strong October

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Not everyone is reeling from the October blues, there are car brands that had a fantastic month with Bentley, Jaguar, Maserati, and Porsche having double and even triple digit increases in sales. The British are leading the way and Jaguar’s 226% sales increase can be attributed to the F-Pace and XE, which have both taken their respective markets by storm. The F-Pace is Jaguar’s first attempt at making an SUV, and so far it has been a great success, while the XE, which is the British’s answer to the BMW 3 Series, is seeing strong sales since it’s arrival to the market earlier this year.

Bentley’s impressive gain of 158% in sales last month is all thanks to the Benteyga, which is Bentley’s first ever SUV. In October, the Benteyga contributed more than 33% of sales for the Bentley brand. While the British luxury car maker is down on the year by 6.8%, the entrance into the luxury SUV market has yielded strong sales figures, with the Benteyga making up about 50% of Bentley’s sales in the US since it’s debut on the market in August.

Maserati, much like Bentley and Jaguar, has seen strong sales numbers since entering the SUV market as well. The Levante, which also brought in about 33% of sales in October for Maserati, has received raved reviewed by journalists and consumers. Maserati has hit a home run with their luxury SUV, and that is starting to trickle down to other cars in the lineup. The Ghibli had a strong month alongside the Levante, leading to Maserati’s 11.8% increase in sales for the month of October.

Porsche had the best month out of all German brands in October, with luxury SUV’s again being the main contributor for strong sale. Up 10.7% in October and 3.2% for the year of 2016, Porsche has seen tremendous sales figures and it’s the Cayenne and Macan that is carrying the once sports car dominated lineup.

Strong sales across the board for luxury brands could be a good sign, despite the slowing of overall sales in the market. While Fiat-Chrysler, BMW, Volvo, and many others struggled in October, there’s no reason to panic just yet. If the fourth quarter of 2016 continues a downward trend and that transitions into the new year, then there would be a legitimate reason for concern. As for right now, we can only hope that October isn’t the start of a trend, and that the holiday season and the incentives that come with it could motivate consumers to buy in November and December.

Mazda: The Face Of A New Trend In The Auto Industry

Mazda 6
AlBargan / Foter / CC BY-ND

The past five to ten years for the auto industry has seen countless innovations and changes, from cars being more economical, smaller SUV’s, to auto manufacturers changing their identity to keep up with the times. Mazda is one of many manufacturers who changed their lineup to appeal to all generations with their new designs and models that range across the spectrum of the auto world. A company that was primarily sports car driven with the Miata and RX-7, is now continuously finding ways to add on to what they’ve built in the past decade.

The Mazda 3, Mazda 6, CX-5, and CX-9 have created a solid foundation for the Japanese auto maker to build on. The 3 and 6 are beginning to compete against tough competition, as sedans priced between $20,000 – $30,000 have become extremely competitive. Because of this, auto brands are releasing some of the best looking cars in the segment. The Chrysler 200, Ford Focus and Fusion, Honda Civic and Accord, Subaru Impreza and Legacy, and Mazda’s 3 and 6 might just be the most options consumers have ever had in the compact to mid-size sedan segment. With that being said, a new trend in the auto industry is here, and you can thank the Germans for that.

Mercedes Benz, Audi, and BMW are in a battle of their own, fighting for position and dominating the smaller luxury car market. This fight for a majority stake in the $30,000 – $40,000 range has trickled down to companies who primarily sell cars $10,000 cheaper. Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Subaru, Mazda, and Hyundai know that if they don’t start jockeying for position in their respected segment, they’ll become victims to the big three in Germany. Consumers are beginning to see the opportunities that BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz have opened up and are now buying A3’s, CLA’s, and BMW X1’s. After two strong years for the Germans, the other auto manufacturers have had to throw a few punches of their own.

Think about it. Did you ever think you’d see the day when a Honda Fit or Civic would have a touch screen in their dashboards? Mazda’s, Subaru’s, and Hyundai’s are looking more high class which is making the consumer very bold in this segment. Four-door sedans, hatchbacks, and crossovers are the new, hot toys on the market. Sports cars are seeing a decline in sales, and despite lower gas prices, consumers aren’t buying bigger SUV’s like they once did.

We are going to continue seeing the auto industry changing, but for the better. Right now, as consumers, we’re like kids in a candy store and the auto manufactures continue coming out with new things to try. Mazda is about to unleash the new CX-3 which will take a bite in the small crossover segment, Honda is still going strong with the models they’re selling, Subaru continues to change their model’s appearances to entice buyers, Ford is pushing the Titanium trims of the Focus and Fusion, and Chrysler’s 200 not only looks classy, but now offers a V-6 engine under the hood that supplies 295 HP.

This is an amazing time to be in the market for a car. You can buy new or used, or lease which will put you behind the wheel of these new cars. Best of all, dealerships are offering great lease deals, especially around the holidays. Heading into 2015, you don’t have to own a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes Benz to drive a nice a car that provides luxury and a quiet interior.

Are Sports Cars Becoming A Thing Of The Past?

Er hat bestimmt eine tolle Klimaanlage.
ingrid eulenfan / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

As we’re heading into the fifteenth year of the new millennium, the automotive world has changed quite a bit from twenty years ago. Sedans have more powerful engines, which means more horsepower, smaller SUV’s and crossovers can be found in almost every car manufacturer lineup, and technology in both the engine and the interiors of vehicles have now taken precedence over power. When it comes to the traditional sports car, is their time coming to and end? BMW’s Sales Chief Ian Robertson thinks so.

“The sports car market is roughly half of what it used to be,” Robertson told Bloomberg. “Post-2008, it just collapsed—I’m not so sure it’ll ever fully recover.”

To keep his comment in context, he’s not referring to the exotic luxury sports car market that includes Ferrari and other premium brands. Two-door coupes in general have been waning, and to take their place, sedans which used to be seen as for the average adult, now have sports packages that certainly would make a consumer question the long term value of buying a coupe.

Two-door coupes really aren’t that practical for families, or young adults who want to drive their friends around town. There’s less carrying capacity for both people and groceries which could definitely be a hassle if you’re moving into a dorm or shop frequently. Looking at how the automotive world has evolved over the past decade there are certainly better options out there for the average consumer.

Hatchbacks and sedans today offer everything the car enthusiast and everyday driver wants from a car. Cargo space, seating capacity, and more importantly stronger engines with more horsepower. While some would say sports car have a better center of gravity and can take turns better, how important is that to people who just want to get from Point A to Point B?

Sports cars have been on the downward trend. However, while the sports car market is slowing down for automakers, Ford, GM, and Dodge have re-introduced the muscle car to the American driver. Ford’s new Mustang that has the body style of the 1960’s, Dodge’s Charger and Challenger Hellcats that pack a whopping 707 horses, and Chevy’s Camaro are all grabbing the attention of sports car drivers. But other than the Americans, many car companies have turned their focus to serving the consumer who wants a four-door.

Even Porsche has slightly strayed from their identity as they’ve come out with to SUV’s and the four-door Panamera. Volkswagen is discontinuing their Eos, Volvo stopped producing the C30 and C70, Mazda has no plans to remake an RX-8, Chrysler is putting more focus on the 200 sedan rather than the coupe which they do offer, BMW is adding a four door to their 4series, and Audi has released sketches of a four-door TT. The trend in the automotive market is moving towards sedans and SUV’s, and whether that has anything to do with the fact that they’re more practical, or manual transmissions (which are usually found on sports cars) are becoming a thing of the past, we can’t lie to ourselves and think that Ian Robertson is wrong.

As I said before, he wasn’t saying anything about the exotic sports car market which is seeing strong sales numbers; he’s referring to the market that BMW is in. Consumers want smaller four-door cars, and that’s what we’re seeing car companies building. While Ian Robertson might be right about the sports car market, the four-door sedans of today have that sports car identity built in them that makes the Dodge Charger, Chrysler 200S, Audi S4, and the Lexus IS-F very popular cars.

Has Italian Ownership Changed The Chrysler Group For The Better?

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT (left) and Dodge Challenger SRT Supercharged (right)
Chrysler Group / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

When Italians and Americans come together the end result is usually awesome, and Fiat-Chrysler is no exception. What has transpired over the past few years for the American manufacturer is a combination of the first three Rocky films, as Chrysler was this beat-up, almost irrelevant company, and in a matter of a few short years has become a force to be reckoned with. While Chrysler is changing the definition of American luxury, Dodge has become the automotive world’s version of Rocky Balboa; two tons of Italian-American muscle that has redefined what muscle cars are.

Starting with the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, clearly Italian influence is making its impact as the new muscle car now has a 707 hp engine, which makes it the most powerful American muscle car ever manufactured. But Dodge didn’t stop there, they’re now Hellcatting the Charger, which just like it’s brother, will be the most powerful four-door sedan sports car to come out of America. While Dodge’s SRT department retains the credit for creating the two beasts, Italian ownership clearly had some input on the power. Seeing that Fiat owns Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, they’ve incorporated Italian engineering with American muscle which has spawned two sports cars that’s making the Dodge Viper obsolete and forgotten.

By 2016, we’ll also have an SRT Dodge Dart which is certainly going to draw some attention, as smaller, powerful four-door compacts are becoming a trend. Even though the company is still Dodge, you can’t help but feel that it’s becoming an Italian car more than American, which is a good thing. The Chrysler group needed a push in the right direction, and by having a luxury manufacturer in Chrysler, and now what appears to be the performance division in Dodge, there is the right balance that’s boosted sales throughout the year.

Jeep on the other hand is becoming Fiat’s extended arm, as the new Jeep Renegade will be based off the Fiat Panda, a vehicle we don’t get here in the United States. The Jeep Cherokee has definitely been Italian-ized with that new, European look. It’s been recently reported that Jeep claimed Trackhawk as their performance name, raising speculation that we might see a Hellcat-like SUV that may change the perception consumers have on SUV’s in general.

Right now things couldn’t be better for the Chrysler group. They’re producing vehicles consumers want, spanning across multiple age groups that’s reshaped their customer base, and becoming more like a European auto manufacturer than American. Their new image of being young, fun, with a dose of luxury has certainly changed how Americans see the Chrysler group, and they’re now seeing strong sales because of it.

Chrysler Sales Rise 17% in May as Jeep and Dodge are in Demand

Chrysler reported strong earnings in May, as Jeep, Fiat, and Dodge carried most of the momentum heading into June. Jeep sales alone rose 58%, Fiat up 18%, and Dodge Ram trucks up 17%. Surprisingly the Chrysler brand itself didn’t report any gains, in fact sales were down 22%. The hope is that the redesigned Chrysler 200 can reignite sales as it will be the first model to get a whole new makeover that will be present in all Chrysler vehicles.

The Dodge Journey and Dart both had a great month, putting together a 33% gain in May. The Challenger on the other hand barely managed a 4% increase in sales, as subtle changes to the body didn’t seem to phase consumers.

With GM having their own problems, this is great news for the Chrysler group as confidence in their brand appears to be growing. The Jeep Cherokee is a favorite among buyers as it brings it’s all-new design and reputation as being a strong and durable SUV.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the 2015 Dodge Charger will sell. After the Charger’s unveiling at the New York International Auto Show, it didn’t get a warm reception. Some consumers didn’t like the fact that Dodge basically put the body of the Dart on the chassis of a Charger, making the once fierce-looking four door sedan look tame.

Despite Chrysler being owned by Fiat for a few years now, the company is still evolving and making major changes to their lineups. If sales continue to grow, there will be a bright future for them as their five year plan heading into 2018 looks very promising.