The market for the BMW 7 Series in South Africa differs quite significantly from the rest of the world.
China, the US and the Middle East almost exclusively buy the long-wheel-base version, using the German manufacturer’s luxury high-end sedan as a chaffeur-driven vehicle.
Globally, around 85% of sales are long-wheel-base models and 15% standard wheel base, says BMW South Africa 7 Series product manager George Lombard.
In South Africa, however, sales of long-wheel-base 7 Series models reach between 20% and 30%, with the normal wheel base between 70% and 80%of sales.
Globally, BMW sold 368 400 units of the previous 7 Series over a life cycle of around six to seven years, with most of these in China.
In South Africa – a small 7 Series market – sales reached between 1 700 to 1 800 units over the same life-cycle.
“We have more individual buyers in South Africa than large corporate or government buyers,” notes Lombard.
Remote Parking, Gesture Control
Pricing for BMW’s flagship product in South Africa, the new, sixth-generation 7 Series, starts at R1.34-million.
Kicking off sales with conventional, high-performance diesel and petrol engines, as one would expect from BMW, the line-up will be expanded at the end of the year with the 740e plug-in hybrid, which will feature a four-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor, which will enable it to travel around 40 km in pure electric mode.
The 740e promises fuel consumption of 2.1 l/100 km.
March will see the launch of full individualisation on the 7 Series, which will allow customers to create a vehicle like no other, through, for example, choices in trim and upholstery.
In May, the technology line-up will be expanded to include remote-control parking.
“This technology was developed for the left-hand-drive markets first, which is why South Africa has to wait until May or June,” says Lombard.
Remote-control parking is one of several new technology features on the 7 Series. It allows owners to manoeuvre their vehicles in or out of forward-parking spaces or garages without anyone at the wheel.
This means drivers can access tight parking spaces with ease.
The driver initiates the technology using the newly developed BMW display-screen key, which looks more like a small smartphone than a key.
Inside, the new 7 Series also offers touch-screen controls for the first time, similar to a tablet computer.
Another new addition is gesture control.
A three-dimensional sensor reads hand gestures to control the volume in audio applications, change radio stations, and to accept or reject incoming telephone calls.
There is also the option of pairing a specific gesture with any selected function, such as muting the radio.
Gesture control requires the realisation that the driver does not interact with the screen, but that the gesture is read from the roof of the car, in the space in front of the screen.
Also, a gentle, but definite stir of the finger, not the hand, increases volume. Gestures are supposed to be short and succinct.
Once the driver understands these basic principles gesture control becomes intuitive. (Only once did I activate gesture control inadvertently through vigorous hand-waving during a conversation.)
Also joining the line-up of new technology in the 7 Series is a smartphone holder that allows wireless, inductive charging for mobile phones.
And, as the 7 Series is often used to carry passengers, the rear console has a fold-out table, additional cupholders and removable seven-inch tablet computer that allows the user to control the infotainment and comfort functions available in the rear of the vehicle, such as viewing videos, or surfing the Internet.
Another cluster of technologies that will no doubt find favour is one that allows semi-automated driving in slow-moving traffic. If set to do so, the 7 Series will automatically follow the vehicle in front of it, braking and turning as necessary.
Slightly disconcerting at first, it becomes quite a stress reliever as trust builds between driver and car.
Another technology worth mentioning is BMW laserlight.
These laser headlights generate a particularly bright, pure white light, as well as providing a high-beam range of 600 metres, double that of the normal headlights.
It also has a function that prevents the vehicle from blinding oncoming traffic.