A prestige car for a cash-rich market
FIRST DRIVE BMW7 SERIES:IN A COUNTRY where it is not unusual for someone to walk into a car dealership and buy a new car in exchange for a bag of cash and where cars of almost every brand are selling in huge numbers, it is small wonder that the world’s car manufacturers are circling the Russian market with determination, in particular the luxury car makers.The deep troubles evident in the rest of Europe are not reflected there – as the gulf between the haves and the have-nots grows, so too do the sizeable profits shared by big companies from Range Rover, Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Ferrari even, to Ford, Hyundai and Kia. Side by side with cars that have had body repairs done by the owner at home (masking tape is very common) are the Range Rover Evoques, the BMW 5 and 7 Series models and the Audi Q7s.
BMW, for example, allocated 1,500 cars to its Russian subsidiary for this year, 70 per cent of which were sold before the end of June. It has also opened Europe’s first M Sport dealership just outside St Petersburg, where sports versions of its standard models retail for between €76,000 and more than €200,000. According to Eugen Korner, who heads its sales team, customers there range from a 24-year-old IT professional who bought his car for cash to a 60-year-old businessman who came to buy an M5 but changed his mind upon encountering a younger man interested in the same car. He later left behind the wheel of an M6. Irish BMW dealers may have seen some eyebrow-raising deals during the boom, but they never saw anything like this.
Russian car buyers aspire more to a prestige car than they do to a prestige holiday or home, according to local market experts, and those who buy executive or luxury cars insist on three things: leather upholstery, wood trims and metallic paint, all preferably in dark colours. And they pay handsomely. That is why BMW recently launched its revamped 7 Series in St Petersburg. It was an opportunity to significantly raise its profile on the local market with a flagship event.
In truth, the 7 Series has not changed significantly for its latest incarnation, at least not at first glance. The 7 is ageing well and, without an over-abundance of lines, it is well defined enough. Like Audi, there is much emphasis on LED headlights, which are now incorporated into the circular design but probably only noticeable at night. The traditional kidney grille has been revised and there are now nine slats instead of 12. All subtle changes that won’t upset anyone but will only challenge the eagle-eyed BMW expert.
Much attention has been paid to the interior, with an eye on the competition from Audi and Mercedes – all of the German giants fight fiercely competitive battles in the leading markets of the US, China, South Korea, Germany, the Middle East and so on. Now with the revised 7 Series customers are being wooed with new leather seats with lumbar support but, more revealingly, it is the rear seat passengers who get the most improvements. The 7 Series is, after all, more often a car to be driven in than to drive.