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Base model 5-Series? $44,500. Top-line 5-er? $59,700. Independence? Priceless.

Those were the key messages from a luncheon with BMW's U.S. marketing and product planning chief Jack Pitney, who snuck into Motown to discuss, among other things, the upcoming American launch of one of the maker's most important product lines.

The all-new 2011 528i, 535i and 550i models have gone through a significant transformation, and now share much of their underlying platform with the latest-generation BMW 7 Series. But they also share a lower price tag with other high-line sedans, something that reflects what Pitney admitted is a "highly-competitive" U.S. luxury market. The 528i will officially hit American showrooms, on June 19, carrying a sticker that's $1,400 under that of the outgoing model.

Notably, all three models will offer the option of all-wheel drive, as well as a no-charge pick of either an eight-speed automatic or a six-speed manual, the latter likely only to account for about five percent of overall sales, but still critical, stressed Pitney, to reinforcing the brand's "Ultimate Driving Machine" image.

And yes, he stressed, while BMW has been playing with a second advertising tagline, "The Joy of Driving," that long-lived "Ultimate" slogan isn't going away. "That," he insisted, "would never, ever occur."

Photos by Chris Paukert / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Though the ever-popular 3 Series is BMW's big seller here, the 5-er remains a critical part of the lineup; a bit surprisingly, the outgoing model still accounted for 20 percent of the brand's overall U.S. sales in 2009.

But for those who remember the days when buying a BMW meant choosing between 3-, 5- and 7-, the maker is continuing to expand its line-up. Soon after the launch of the new 5 Series, it will bring in a redesigned X3 – while shifting the global production site to BMW's Spartanburg, South Carolina assembly line – as well as the new X1. The 6 Series will also get a remake next year.

A little further out are the planned MegaCity electric vehicles, an all-new line-up of downsized battery cars aimed at the worl'd growing urban markets. While Pitney declined to give specific details, he did note the new models "definitely will have the Roundel up front, so they will be BMW (branded) vehicles, but we will create a separate sub-brand for them."

BMW, noted Pitney, was just barely able to maintain its lead in the global sales sweepstakes, during the first quarter of 2010, reflecting the increasing aggressiveness of rival Audi. (The Volkswagen subsidiary did nose past Mercedes-Benz). BMW's North American marketing czar said he is confident his brand can maintain its lead here, but admitted "There is a huge, healthy does of paranoia that runs inside BMW."

We don't think a marriage is a good way to run a global car company.
During a long luncheon, Pitney took several jibes at arch-rival Mercedes' parent, Daimler AG, which has just entered a surprise alliance with the Euro-Japanese Renault-Nissan partnership. That move is designed to reduce product and component development costs, but Pitney suggested it could blur the distinctions between the various partners.

"Marriages require compromises," he said, adding that, "We don't think a marriage is a good way to run a global car company. We want to lay out our own path."

Of course, BMW has some personal knowledge of how things can go wrong. Its own acquisition of the Rover Group failed catastrophically, some years back, though it was able to salvage the Mini brand before Rover's eventual failure.

Paul A. Eisenstein is Publisher of TheDetroitBureau.com, and a 30-year veteran of the automotive beat. His editorials bring his unique perspective and deep understanding of the auto world to Autoblog readers on a regular basis.

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