BMW's New 3-Series Comes With Tech Array to Battle Mercedes

(Bloomberg) -- BMW AG has packed its revamped 3-Series sedan with tech gadgetry like smartphone entry, auto-reverse and an in-car assistant that learns drivers’ routines, aimed at delivering a crucial sales bump after growth slowed.

The best-selling model, unveiled at the Paris car show and available in March, demonstrates how manufacturers have moved away from luring customers with luxurious trimmings and engine choices. Carmakers battling in the mid-range premium segment that also includes the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 aren’t waiting for top-line models to offer advanced technologies.

BMW's New 3-Series Comes With Tech Array to Battle Mercedes

“It’s a bit of a bellwether for how BMW is doing as a company,” IHS Markit analyst Tim Urquhart said in a phone interview. “For the last 20, 30 years this has been the aspirational vehicle of the young, upwardly mobile professional, and that’s not going to change very soon.”

BMW, issuing its first profit warning in a decade last week, is working to reclaim the luxury sales lead from Mercedes by 2020, after its arch rival overtook the Munich-based company in 2016 with an expanded lineup of sport utility vehicles and overhauled design. While sedans have lost ground to popular SUVs, the 3-Series remains BMW’s top-selling model.

BMW's New 3-Series Comes With Tech Array to Battle Mercedes

While carmakers are starting to churn out electric vehicles, BMW will sit out offering the new 3-Series as a battery-only car. A plug-in hybrid version is due for the summer months with an electric driving range of 60 kilometers (37 miles). BMW plans to release 12 electric vehicles by 2025, starting next year with the electric Mini.

To set itself apart, the new 39,950 euro ($46,374) 3-Series incorporates features like eradicating the car key. Drivers use their smartphone instead to unlock the vehicle and start it, by placing the phone in a wireless charging tray. Once underway, the car can automatically keep a set distance from the car in front and it helps drivers stick to a lane in tight roadwork channels. In stop-and-go traffic, it can restart from a standstill on its own.

The car will also be able to auto-reverse as far as 50 meters, helpful in confined spaces, by backtracking its exact path after recording steering movements.

“It represents the BMW brand like no other car,” Head of development Klaus Froehlich said at the show. “It is truly the heart and soul of BMW.”

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