BMW has been striving to reconcile its dueling images for years. Best known for its luxurious, sport-oriented cars, the German manufacturer's motorcycles are only beginning to shed their reputation as wheels for safety-conscious old men, thanks to exciting new bikes like the S 1000 RR and K 1600 LT.
At this weekend's International Motorcycle Shows event in Long Beach, BMW is likely to confuse its image even further when its first scooters make their North American debut. Designed to capitalize on a trend in the world's largest scooter market -- Italy -- the C 600 Sport and C 650 GT are agile enough to cut through city traffic but large enough to also take a weekend trip.
How they'll do in the U.S. is "a step in the dark," said Pieter de Waal, vice president of BMW Motorrad USA. Scooters aren't nearly as commonplace in the U.S. as they are in Europe, and their sales are correlated with gas prices. Its buyers aren't expected to be motorcyclists, nor are they likely to be owners of BMW cars.
BMW first dreamed up its maxi scooter concepts in 2007. It unveiled them to the public in Milan, Italy, in late 2010 and is manufacturing them in Berlin. The decision to go into production was based on "overwhelming support" from Italy, France and Spain, where BMW expects 70% of its scooter sales, De Waal said.
"A scooter buyer generally has one purpose: to go to work and back," De Waal said. "The challenge for us was whether we could make a scooter that would enhance our brand image and not deter from it, because scooters are commuter items and we are generally in an industry building exciting leisure items."
Both new BMW scooters are powered with an inline twin cylinder that cranks 60 horsepower from its 647-cc engine and reaches a top speed of about 100 miles per hour. Neither require shifting because the transmission is continuously variable.
The performance-oriented C 600 Sport situates the rider on a taller seat with a flatter handlebar. Built for two, with a floorboard for the rider and footrests for the passenger, the Sport's windscreen is mechanically adjustable, its body shape slightly more aggressive looking. A FlexCase under the seat expands to hold two helmets when the Sport is parked.
The C 650 GT seating is more relaxed, with a larger saddle, higher handlebar and adjustable backrest. Both the rider's and the passenger's feet rest on floorboards. The GT's windscreen is electronically adjustable.
The C 600 Sport and C 650 GT may be scooters, but they take many of their suspension and handling cues from BMW motorcycles, including an upside-down front fork and single swingarm. The wheels are large like a motorcycle's, with a wider tread than is normally found on a scooter. They are also equipped with anti-lock brakes.
Like its motorcycles, BMW's new scooters have electronic fuel injection to improve mileage and are outfitted with a catalytic converter to reduce tailpipe emissions. Fuel economy estimates haven't yet been released.
Pricing hasn't yet been announced either, but De Waal estimates that the scooters will cost about $10,000 when they enter the U.S. market next fall, most likely as a 2013 model.
BMW C 600 Sport and C 650 GT
Base price: Not yet announced
Available: Fall 2012
Powertrain: Fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, inline two-cylinder, continuously variable transmission
Displacement: 647 cc
Maximum horsepower: 60 at 7,500 rpm
Maximum torque: 49 pound-feet at 6,000 rpm
Curb weight: Not yet available
Fuel economy: Not yet available