NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- You'll have to look very closely to notice the changes in exterior design of the sixth-generation 7 Series sedan from BMW that will arrive in October to U.S. dealers.
That's the point: BMW's looks and design cues have reinforced a prestige image gained through engineering excellence. Eschewing a radical facelift for the new model, the German automaker has introduced a slew of technical innovations designed to attract shoppers who select from the highest-end sedans like the Mercedes-Benz S Class from Daimler AG (DDAIF) , the Audi A8 from Volkswagen AG (VLKAY) and the Lexus LS460 from Toyota Motor (TM) - Get Toyota Motor Corp. Sponsored ADR Report . The new 740i rear-wheel-drive model starts at about $82,300.
Among the innovations is a "carbon core" strategy of replacing several metal parts with carbon fiber, thus helping to remove 290 pounds of weight compared to the old model. An automatic louver hidden behind the car's fascia opens and closes as needed so can cool the engine compartment. "Gesture control" allows a driver to raise or lower the volume of sound, accept or reject a phone call by motioning in the air.
BMW said of the 25 innovation introduced in the new model, which will be imported from Germany, 13 are firsts to the industry.
"As has always been the case, innovations introduced in the 7 Series migrate to other BMW models, which is why this introduction is so important to us," said Ludwig Willisch, chief executive of BMW's North American operations.
Even more important than which sedan has the newest and coolest features is the Teutonic rivalry among BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi to sell the most luxury vehicles of all sizes, as wells as the race to see which takes top spot in the large-sedan category that includes 7 Series, S Class and A8.
In the past year, BMW shares have struggled, falling 6.5% in price as Daimler has gained 13% and outperformed the DAX German stock performance index, which gained 10.5% for the period. The shares of VW are flat compared to a year ago.
In terms of global sales,. BMW has been number one worldwide in unit sales since passing Mercedes-Benz in 2005. Audi is No. 2 in the world. But the Mercedes S Class reigns as monarch in its class, which Daimler AG -- the owner of Mercedes-Benz -- takes pains to highlight.
But all three German makers of luxury cars have for several years reaped handsome profits in China -- where the latest collapse in equity markets and cooling in the automotive sector pose questions about the future.
In the U.S., Willisch is undertaking to raise levels of customer service as high as possible, creating a special rung for 7 Series buyers called "Ultimate Benefits." The service will include a so-called "second delivery" of the vehicle, so a BMW dealer representative can explain new features and how they operate.
Additional explanation could come in handy. BMW and other automakers have grappled with making cutting-edge technology understandable and usable to customers, some of whom lack programming savvy for the many features that require driver involvement. Adaptive cruise control, for example, keeps a car from exceeding a set speed and from getting too close to a vehicle ahead -- yet many owners don't know their cars have it, much less how to use it.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.