Special Coverage

New York Int’l Auto Show

NEW YORK – In one of his valedictory duties, BMW of North America LLC President and CEO Tom Purves picks up the world green car of the year award at the New York International Auto Show for a diesel-powered 1-Series, a vehicle not even sold in this market.

The 1-Series, in coupe form rather than the hatchback body style sold in Europe, goes on sale in the U.S. this week. Purves, who bows out as BMWNA chief at the end of March, presided over the German importer during a 9-year period that saw its sales double.

When he took over the top job in April 1999, BMW U.S. sales were 160,000 units annually. Last year, BMW sold 335,000 vehicles in the U.S., including 42,000 Minis.

Purves, reflecting back on his tenure at BMWNA in an interview with Ward’s, says it was the dynamic nature of the market here that impressed him the most.

“I'm also constantly surprised at the sheer size of the country,” he says.

When he first settled in at BMWNA’s Woodcliff Lake, NJ, headquarters, he was puzzled about why the company needed four regional headquarters and managers.

“Within two weeks I understood,” he says. “Dealers need a regional boss.”

Business in the Midwest is different than in Florida, he says. “That's why you need to have regional managers.”

Purves, who plans to return to his native U.K., says he flew more than 250,000 miles (402,000 km) annually to manage the business, a task that would have been even more onerous if not for modern electronics that made long-distance conferencing possible.

“My successors will continue to do the same thing,” Purves says, adding it was important to keep communicating targets to managers and dealers in order for BMW to remain a benchmark in the luxury sport sedan sector.

“The greatest danger of being No.1 is complacency,” he says.

Purves doesn't think BMW is approaching its sales limit, despite its spectacular growth in the last decade.

“I don't see why we can't do 400,000 cars per year,” he says, although he notes the U.S. market is looking at a couple of tough years ahead.

“But in the long run it will come together (again),” he says.

Succeeding Purves as president of BMWNA is BMW (UK) Ltd. Managing Director Jim O’Donnell. Purves will continue to be responsible for BMW Group's sales in the Americas and remain as chairman of the BMW of North America management board.