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Ouch...7-series article

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BMW 7 Series' problems could alienate loyal, wealthy customers

Gerry Schedlinski is a BMW man, but he's fed up with his new $85,000 7 Series.
Touted as the most technically sophisticated BMW ever, his new 7 Series -- his seventh, coincidentally -- is "almost a melon," he says. "This is just not acceptable. Minor problems can all happen with cars, but not with luxury cars."
BMW AG's new 7 Series, the automaker's flagship, is off to a rocky start. Its unorthodox design (some call it downright ugly) and high-tech gadgetry are topics of great debate at German parties this spring. But there are growing signs of deeper troubles ahead for the new 7 Series.
The automaker, often hailed for its technical expertise and bulletproof quality and reliability, last week announced a recall of several thousand of the 35,000 7 Series models sold so far worldwide to check for potential fuel-pump and valve problems. Could that be just the beginning?
It may be. Within months after Schedlinski drove his gunmetal gray 745i home from the dealer, the power-steering pump quit. The automatic trunk, now fixed, needed an old-fashioned push so it would close properly. The windshield washer system still doesn't work properly and will be replaced.
There's more, much more.
The integrated telephone occasionally is on the fritz. Weather-stripping is falling off the driver's door. And they can't seem to fix the grinding noise coming from somewhere behind the transmission. BMW says it's a software problem. But Schedlinski, a consulting engineer who knows a thing or two about how things work, thinks it's more than that.
"It's a disappointment," he says, adding that his first six 7 Series were trouble-free, not to mention the five others driven by other family members. "They have to pick it up again and fix it. If they can't, they can keep the car."
Schedlinski's neighbor, Kirsten Schoder-Steinmueller, isn't to that point yet, mainly because she's loved every 7 Series she's ever owned. But she might get there soon if BMW isn't careful.
While hurtling down the autobahn toward Nuremberg at nearly 100 mph late last week, the engine in her 7 Series unexpectedly slowed to a crawl and the digital readout said "loss of motor power."
After a condescending customer service agent asked her whether there was gas in the car, a technician arrived to replace the throttle valve, target of last week's recall. It's just the latest problem -- and the most serious -- with her third 7 Series.
"The phone quits, I laugh," she says, adding that pieces of interior trim soon will be replaced because the color is rubbing off. "The distance control doesn't work, I laugh. But the engine, that is not fun."
A BMW spokesman, Wieland Bruch, says the initial quality of the new 7 Series is comparable to its predecessors as well as competitors a few months after launch. Asked if the new 7 Series has a quality problem, he says: "No."
Mounting evidence suggests otherwise. BMW had better address these problems and fast. Failure to move quickly, openly and admit mistakes -- never easy for one of Germany's Big Three automakers -- could brand BMW, even at home, for having launched the high-tech 7 Series too soon.
Worse, it'll look as if the Bavarian automaker is using well-heeled customers, who happily pay $75,000 or more for a new car, as product-development engineers. That's unacceptable.