“There will be front-wheel-drive BMWs in the smaller vehicle classes in the future,” BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer (pictured) said at the company's annual financial results press conference here today.
Currently, all BMW models are rear-wheel drive and all Mini variants are front-wheel drive.
BMW development boss Klaus Draeger said the new vehicle architecture will debut in 2014 with the arrival of the third-generation Mini hatchback.
He said the new architecture will enable BMW to produce a range of vehicles that are between 3800mm and 4300mm long. By comparison, Volkswagen's Fox, Polo, Golf, Beetle and Scirocco model lines fit within the same size range, which covers everything from minicars to subcompacts to compacts.
Sources said that at its peak the new architecture will underpin up to 20 different BMW and Mini model variants.
For BMW, the new front-wheel-drive models will fit below its entry-premium 1-series models, which Draeger said would keep their rear-drive architecture.
BMW needs to meet a growing demand for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. The company also will have to cope with tougher European CO2 emission rules that start to take effect in 2012.
Reithofer said: "We expect the premium small car segment to grow by 4-6 percent annually until 2020," adding that the group would cut its CO2 fleet emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020 versus 2008 levels, when they were 156 grams per km.
The decision to create a new joint architecture is also a sign of the times. Automakers are under increasing pressure to share investments between brands or with partners to save money.