BMW recently introduced the facelifted X1 in the Indian market. Refreshed styling, more kit and BS6-compliant powertrains aside, the updated X1 also makes a notable change – the withdrawal of an all-wheel-drive-equipped version. BMW’s xDrive setup was available on the outgoing model's range-topping diesel trim. The carmaker attributes the move to a lower demand for all-wheel drive and a different set of priorities of the target audience.
Speaking to Autocar India on the sidelines of the launch, Rudratej Singh, president and CEO, BMW Group India, said, "Our SAVs (Sports Activity Vehicles) are known for their versatility and their utility, off-road and on-road. But the X1 customer, as we have learnt over the last few years, is slightly different to the others. So, we do have the all-wheel drive in our X3, X4, X5, X6 and X7 and this will remain. The (X1) customer doesn’t have this requirement."
Instead, prospective owners assign a greater importance to a plush experience relatable to a premium brand. "Many of the X1s are the only cars in the (customers') families. Therefore, the front seat driving experience and back seat comfort, both become extremely critical." "They are not necessarily using the car for the purposes that maybe the X5 is used for," commented Singh on the decision to skip xDrive this time around. However, he suggested that the off-road gear could make a comeback if demand were to return.
Despite an overall shift from diesel to petrol in the Indian automotive segment, the BMW head doesn't "see the shift happening to a level where we will only need one and not the other in the foreseeable future." Consequently, the company has upgraded both, the 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engine offerings of the X1 to BS6. "I think that there is a good balance that’s happening between petrol and diesel. Really, it’s for the consumers to decide," he added.
In terms of competition, Mercedes is expected to bring in the second-gen GLA, by October 2020, with petrol and diesel powertrains, and all-wheel-drive functionality on the latter. The new Audi Q3, also expected later this year, will be a petrol-only model. The Volvo XC40 recently made the switch to a BS6-compliant, front-wheel-drive petrol from the earlier all-wheel-drive BS4 diesel. The X1's distant cousin, the Mini Countryman, gets both fuel options, albeit only in a front-wheel-drive guise in India. Clearly, holding onto a diesel offering should give the Bimmer an edge, while the deletion of the xDrive setup only really puts it on equal footing with most of its rivals.
Moreover, attempting to further rationalise the variant line-up of one of the most important models in its India portfolio, BMW has introduced a new 'SportX' base variant at Rs 35.90 lakh (ex-showroom, India), which lowers the entry point to the X1 range by almost Rs 2.40 lakh vis-a-vis the pre-facelifted version. Providing insight, Singh elaborated, "We remain extremely aggressive in wanting to make the X1, which contributes to more than 30 percent of our business in India, very accessible. What we fundamentally are trying to do is to grow the segment. 60 percent of the X1 customers are coming in from the non-premium sector, so it is clearly becoming a bridge into premium."
However, the German brand is banking on more than just an aggressive pricing strategy to enhance the SUV's appeal. "This time, our larger disruption is what we are doing in the area of cost of ownership." To reduce operating and lifetime costs, BMW has introduced special warranty and service programmes, as well as easy financing and assured buyback schemes.
The German marque is adopting a comprehensive strategy for maintaining the X1's position in the market. How well the SUV manages to hold its own in the face of newer competition in the coming months is something that will be interesting to see.