Will new BMW NA CEO Bernhard Kuhnt get the brand back on track?June 27, 2017
BMW has had some struggles in North America in the past couple of years. While the Bavarians have led all premium automakers in sales for some time, other brands like Mercedes-Benz and Audi have caught up, with the former eclipsing BMW. A lot of the problem has been with dealer stock, confusing model lines and body styles and the lack of competitiveness with its new fantastic competitors. However, many U.S. dealerships are optimistic that the new leadership at BMW North America can turn things around.
Bernhard Kuhnt has been named the CEO of BMW North America, following the retirement of current CEO Ludwig Willisch. “Bernhard has to take it to the next level and at a time when there’s a lot of things happening — a lot of electromobility discussions going on, a lot of autonomous driving going on, a lot of tech being delivered or developed here,” said BMW board member Ian Robertson. “He’s going to be busy.”
Indeed, he will be. Kuhnt will have to turn around not only the sales for BMW North America but also some of its reputation. While most fans still understand that BMW still shows shreds of the Ultimate Driving Machine, customers aren’t really seeing it anymore. Rather than the brand they remember, they see dealerships stocked with bloated GT cars, SUVs and more body styles than they can count. It’s confusing and off-putting for a lot of customers.
“BMW has really lost their mojo,” said Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst for KBB, who spoke about how many customers think highly of BMW but just aren’t buying them. “People are looking and saying, ‘There is supercompetitive product out there,’ and choosing something else.”
Fortunately, BMW does have a few new models out right now that will help the brand dramatically. The new 5 Series has only been on sale a few months, so it should help 2017 out a bit. The new BMW X3, which is the most redesigned X3 ever, goes on sale later this year and will dramatically help the brand. Though, BMW’s sales for 2017 should be pretty flat still, as those cars won’t have been on sale long. However, both of them should really help sales for 2018 and onward.
Many people inside BMW and U.S. BMW dealers feel that Kuhnt is the right man to turn things around and get BMW back on track. Many dealership owners and managers have spent some time with him, claiming that he’s “open-minded,” and “down-to-earth,”.
“He’s run a dealership — that is very valuable from our perspective,” said Mark Smith, co-owner of Principle Auto, which owns two BMW stores in Texas.
Ludwig Willisch has been doing a good job and has BMW on the right path, but it will be up to Kuhnt to finish the job, something many believe he can do. “Ludwig started us on a path to build great relationships with the dealers, and that hadn’t always been part of their program,” said Mark Smith. “Bernhard has to take the baton and take the next step of the relay.”