BMW performance tuner Alpina has its eyes on Australia and has begun certifying its cars with a view to selling them here as early as 2016.
The brand known for its distinctive 20-spoke wheels has sent one car to Australia and has begun the detailed homologation process with the Alpina B4 Biturbo, which is based on the BMW 4-Series Coupe.
Alpina product manager Jonathan Ganser says Australia is a prime target for the family-owned company that has close ties – but no financial tie-up – with BMW.
“It’s currently a very strong market for BMW in general … and there are a couple of … importer groups [in Australia] who are interested in widening their portfolio [with Alpina models],” says Ganser of the planned Australian expansion.
“We’re starting to look at one model because homologation is quite difficult in Australia … so we’re testing our procedures. The homologation procedure in Australia needs to go through BMW Australia … we’ve started that process.”
While it is independent of BMW, Alpina works closely with the luxury brand. Some Alpina components are fitted on BMW production lines and the cars are sold through BMW dealers, for example.
Alpina targets its cars as being less track-focused than the high performance BMW M cars – such as the M3, M4 and M5 - adding that it builds “cars for automotive gourmets”.
All get the eight-speed automatic transmission, for example, instead of the edgier dual-clutch gearbox used on M cars. And Alpina focuses slightly more on low-end torque rather than top-end power, as is the case with M cars that top the BMW range.
Alpina’s Ganser says it’s too early to talk about positioning of the Alpina models in Australia, but he points out that in other markets where they are strong – including Germany, Japan and the United States – they are often similarly priced to the BMW M cars.
“Our customers are typically people looking for a high performing car which is easy to use every day, which offers more comfort … and these are customers who are not looking for an M car – it’s too hard core – [and] they don’t find a standard BMW unique enough,” says Ganser.
“They’re really buying something that is exclusive, you don’t see many on the road.”
Alpina is very much a niche brand. Globally it sold 1700 cars in 2014, which is fewer than BMW sells of M models just in Australia.
So at best the tuned BMWs might account for a few dozen sales in Australia, at least initially.
But given the strength of the performance market in Australia – luxury brands here often have the highest percentage of performance sales compared with other markets – it’s clearly a market Alpina is keen to tap into.
BMW Australia spokeswoman Lenore Fletcher confirmed it was looking at Alpina for Australia but that “no decisions have been made at this stage”.
“It's of interest but it's merely a feasibility study,” says Fletcher.