Originally an aircraft engine manufacturer, the company has grown into one of the most iconic presences worldwide. With a rich history, spanning over 98 years and still continuing to evolve, the German automotive maker still continues to be the one that provides “the ultimate driving machine”.
The inception of the enterprise is closely connected to two names – Karl Friedrich Rapp and Gustav Otto. Gustav Otto’s company, Flugmaschinenfabrik, was incorporated into Bayerische Flugzeug-Werke AG (BFW) in 1916, at the request of the government.
One year later, in 1917, the Rapp Motorenwerke company (owned by Karl Rapp) was transformed into Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH, which became an AG (or a share-based business) the following year. In 1922, the entire company, including the brand name, logo and engine making department was assigned to BFW. Therefore, the official birth date of BMW becomes March the 6th, 1916, the date of BFW’s origin.
Bayerische Motoren Werke Aktiengesellschaft, translates to Bavarian Motorcycle Works Joint-Stock Company.
From 1917 onwards, the famous logo, which incorporates the colours of Bavaria, is displayed on every product the company makes, including manuals and advertisements. That year also marks the production of the first in-house product to feature the BMW branding – a six cylinder in-line engine, dubbed the Type IIIa, destined for aircraft use.
The R 32, the first motorcycle produced by the German company was unveiled in 1923 and was the first complete vehicle that to bear the Bavarian branding; until then, only aircraft engines were graced with the blue and white logo.
In 1928, BMW took over the Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach company and began making automobiles, marking another landmark in the development of the enterprise.
During the Second World War, the government labelled BMW as a manufacturer of war materials, condition to which it had to comply and nearly all its resources were diverted to building aircraft engines for the German Air Force. The outcome of the war lead to the company’s plants demise, as machinery were either destroyed or dismantled by Allied troops, leaving BMW without production facilities until 1948. The then struggling manufacturer succeeded to produce a motorcycle – the R24 – whose delivery process was delayed by lack of funds and machinery, but it gained an immense following, as 9,144 were sold in 1949 alone.
The 501 model, produced by the company from 1952 onwards, was the first post-war automobile to be sold on the market. Although not an impressive sales success, since it was a luxury car, it helped establish BMW as a high-status automotive manufacturer.
1961 marks the introduction on the market of the BMW 1500 – a four door saloon that proved to be more successful than expected, as demand exceeded the production capabilities of the company and propelled it to financial profit.
The first production facility located outside of Germany was in Rosslyn, South Africa and was inaugurated in 1972. There, both the Glas 1800 SA and the BMW 2000 SA were assembled. That same year, the BMW Motorsport division, or the BMW M, as it is known today, was inaugurated, the main purpose of the department being the production of performance-oriented BMW cars.
BMW Technik GmbH was established in 1985, as a separate division that had the liberty of creating concept vehicles, without the hindrance imposed by mass production. The first product that came to market thanks to this department was the 1988 limited series Z1 roadster.
In 1989, the first production facility located in the United State was inaugurated in Spartanburg South Carolina. Exclusively thought for the assembly of the Z3 roadster, it opened its gates in 1994. Over the years, the facility expanded its premises and continues to produce the BMW X3, X5 and X6.
1994 also marked the acquisition of the Rover Group, comprised of Land Rover, Mini, MG and Triumph. However, due to the difficulties of integrating such a diverse line of products into the BMW Group’s philosophy, a decision was taken – to keep the Mini brand and sell the rest of the makes. In July 1998, the distinguished Rolls Royce brand and naming rights were purchased by BMW, until the full purchase of the make from Volkswagen in 2002. The Phantom was the first product to come to fruition, in 2003, and since then it gained an immense success.
In 2000, in pursuit of a new strategy for development, BMW had taken the decision of focusing exclusively on the premium segment of the market, including the compact (with Mini in 2001 and the Series 1 in 2004) and the SAV sector, with the X line of vehicles.
The BMW Leipzig plant was opened in May 2005. Being fuelled by alternative energy and having a considerably smaller impact on the environment, it presently produces the i-3 and i-8 models, as well as the Series 1 and the X1.
In 2007, the BMW Group centres its philosophy around Strategy Number ONE, with its four core values: “Growth”, “Shaping the future”, “Profitability” and “Access to technology and customers”. This enables the company to think ahead of time, ensuring a stable growth and a solid development of its assets, customer base and expertise. A long history does not mean that the company has no view of the future – on the contrary, its plans focus on staying relevant and strives on perfecting its products so as to remain one of the leading manufacturers worldwide. Consisting of this long-term development plan is the birth of the i-3, the world’s first compact automobile to feature carbon fibre as part of its body and chassis. Its entire drive train is electric, which means that it has zero emissions, being the first vehicle to be powered by electricity alone in the manufacturer’s range. A sign of things to come, the car includes permanent internet connectivity and the ability to park itself, as well as unique styling and premium materials in its interior.
Formula 1 (1982-2009)
BMW’s history in Formula one started in 1982, when the German company supplied the engine – a 1.5 litre turbocharged monster with a total power output of 1,500 bhp – for the Brabham BT52, driven by Nelson Piquet. In 1983, they already secured a world title. The BT53 followed suit, in 1984, but due to reliability issues, the star driver of the team had to abandon 9 out of 16 races, which lead to a grim outcome for the season, with only 2 races won. The partnership between Brabham and BMW lasted until the end of 1988, when the former decide to withdraw from the sport, while the latter officially ended the relationship as engine provider.
The German company returned to the sport in 2000, as an engine supplier for the Williams team, with a new V10 engine powering the FW22. Although there were aspirations at a world title, Ferrari’s dominance in the first half of the 2000’s didn’t allow for wishful thinking. In 2005, after a series of disappointing performances, BMW decided to part ways with Williams and bought the Swiss rival team Sauber. Over the span of 3 years, the BMW Sauber team secured only a 3rd place on the Constructor’s Championship in 2007, with only minor wins along the way. In 2009, the team was sold to Peter Sauber, the original founder and owner, and BMW withdrew from the sport.
DTM started as the German Production Car Championship and had its debut in 1984. The concept behind its inception was that the cars – Group A production vehicles – had to be limited in terms of performance figures, technology employed, weight and cost of development, so as to allow the participation of private teams or individuals.
BMW won the top four places from the very first race it entered, the star of the show being the BMW 635 CSi. 1987 sees the debut of the BMW M3, a car that was about to spawn a legend all of its own. Five years later, in 1992, the German manufacturer withdraws from the competition. Nearly 20 years later, in 2012, BMW joins again the new DTM, now renamed as the German Touring Car Masters, which continues the history of the former competition, but has strict regulations, in order to prevent the use of over expensive parts and to promote the equality of chances for each team/driver. Three teams and six drivers race for BMW, with the BMW M3 being the car employed by everyone. For 2014, the M3 project has been scrapped, as the new M4 DTM, based on the Series 4 Coupe, will take its place as the vehicle of choice.
Nürburgring 24h (1970-)
The Nürburgring circuit in Germany is regarded as being the most challenging race track on the planet, bearing the nickname “the Green Hell”. Believed to have taken more than 200 lives since its inauguration, it’s easy to see where its fame spawns from.
Once a year, the Nürburgring 24 Hours race takes place on the Nordschleife (or Northern Loop) of the track. Both amateurs and professionals are allowed to race, as long as they comply with regulation. BMW entered the endurance competition in 1970 – incidentally, the same year the event was introduced – and has subsequently raced ever since, winning 19 overall victories, more than any other manufacturer. A BMW 2002 ti won the first race in 1970, while in 2010, the last time BMW was recorded as taking the top spot on the podium, a BMW M3 GT crossed the finish line. For the 2014 edition, a BMW Z4 GT3 was employed, but it did not score notable results.
As noted on the BMW Motorsport website, “The USCC is the amalgamation of GRAND-AM Road Racing and the American Le Mans Series (ALMS)”. A new concept (of joining two separate competitions into one) has taken place under the leadership and supervision of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). The workhorses behind BMW Team RLL are two BMW Z4 GTEs, racing in the Le Mans class.
Formula BMW FB02
BMW runs a special program, called Formula BMW, in which single-seaters that are styled similarly to the F1 race cars can be driven by the general public – for a fee, of course. Training courses, gear and practical information are included in the asking price, as well as track time on board the single-seaters and a Speed Slalom Challenge on board an M-badged automobile, with the best 3 drivers awarded a podium ceremony. Part of the talent scout program, this offer benefits both parties – the driver and the organizer; as a notable fact, world champion Sebastian Vettel was discovered by racing in the series!
Inaugurated in the 1960s, the Sports Trophy was the brand’s means of saying “thank you” to those who purchased and participated in a competition on board a BMW race car, regardless if they were a team or an individual.
Being free of charge, it allows for everybody to participate and the top 25 drivers are rewarded, at the end of the year, with a cheque, the highest sum granted being 30,000 Euros for the topmost position. Since 2013, the most successful teams, on a global scale, have the chance of receiving trophies and prizes in money amounting to 100,000 Euros. Moreover, the winner of the Sports Trophy Drivers’ Competition will have the opportunity to spend a half of day on the track with the 2014 BMW M4 DTM, as well as receiving a hefty sum of money.
BMW – Branding
The BMW Group is one of the leading premium vehicle manufacturers in the world. Comprised of four powerful brands – BMW, Mini, Rolls Royce and the motorcycle division, BMW Motorrad, the German automotive conglomerate has forged its prestige of providing the ultimate driving experience.
Recently, Brand Finance London has named BMW as the second most valuable brand in the world, after Toyota. The process used by the experts follows a clear, pragmatic approach.
“Brand Finance calculates brand value using the Royalty Relief methodology which determines the value a company would be willing to pay to license its brand as if it did not own it. This approach involves estimating the future revenue attributable to a brand and calculating a royalty rate that would be charged for the use of the brand.”
Some of the other attributes also come into play are sustainability, the emotional connection tied to the brand in question and the financial performance. As of 2014, BMW climbed one spot, from 3 (which it occupied in 2013) to 2 and has an estimated brand value of £17,530 million.
Its blue and white logo harkens back to the time when BMW was an aircraft engine maker and plans for building automobiles did not exist. The almost defunct aircraft engine manufacturer Rapp was transformed, in July 1917, in what was to be known hence forth, BMW AG. From a desire to keep the core logo, the three letters were arranged in similar fashion to how those of Rapp were positioned, with the exception that the blue and white colours, a symbol of Bavaria, were placed in the middle. A common misconception is that the logo comes from the rotating propeller of an aircraft, immortalized on the cover of a 1929 magazine but, according to the BMW Origins Museum, that remains merely a myth, as the logo came to life long before that. More precisely, it can be traced to 1917, but the first time when it appeared in print, on a written publication – a manual for an engine – was in 1918. The logo serves both as a visual representation of the brand, by identifying it with its products and rich history, but also serves as a symbol of the emotional connection between the company and its customers.
Another constituent that immediately relates to the German brand is the famous kidney grille. At the Geneva International Motor Show in 1933, the BMW 303 was the first model to bear the signature grille. Over the course of time, numerous interpretations of the two section radiator grille with rounded edges have appeared, but its identity was never lost or estranged, as is was considered much too historically valuable to be replaced by something else. Symbolising the direct link to the engine, it also serves as the main point of interest on the fascia of their every vehicle.
Alongside the logo, the company also has a sound signature. For the past 14 years, in every commercial it ever produced, at the end of the clip there was a double gong sound, present in order to strengthen the connection between the car maker and the product. Another important decision was taken in 2014 – the double gong sound was replaced with something else, in order to bring the company more up-to-date with time, add more dynamism to the audio and visual experience and create the impression of progressivity in the marque’s heritage. The acoustic signature, now composed of two very finely tuned bass tones, will be present in the last part of every audio and visual advertisement of the automaker, being part of a massive branding campaign that is set off to start in France and the United Kingdom.
Within the mother company, various departments, each having a specific purpose, have been set up, tackling matters such as individualization, performance and alternative means of propulsion.
BMW i is the youngest division of the automaker and has already produced two iconic models – the compact city car i-3 and its bigger brother, the i-8 sports car. They represent the automaker’s efforts to produce more efficient vehicles that both weigh less and emit lower quantities of noxious substances than conventional vehicles. With features such as an electrical drive train, the possibility of being recharged from even a regular socket, the use of carbon fibre in both their chassis and body component and permanent internet connectivity, they represent the Group’s foray into the future, paving the road for other products, just as memorable.
The M-Performance department has been in charge of producing high performance variants of stock BMWs as well as concepts since its inception, in 1972.
The current line-up consists of the M3 sedan, the M4 (coupe and convertible), the M5 sedan and the M6, which comes either as a coupe, a convertible or as a sedan, bearing the name GranCoupe. The models that wear the M-badge benefit from a host of improvement, starting from modified engines, refined transmission systems, custom suspension set-ups, individualized cockpit trims and accessories up to enhanced aerodynamic capabilities and M-specific exterior components. A private facility located near the Nürburgring circuit serves as testing ground for the performance tuned models.
BMW Individual, another subdivision, is a tailor-made program specifically created for customers that require modifications to the cars they purchase from the automaker, regardless if interior or exterior. Available either in predefined packages or strictly according to customer needs, the ways in which one is able to customize a vehicle are limited only by imagination. The exterior colours have a range of unique hues and some feature pigmentation, so as to stand out. The upholstery – fine grain Merino leather – adorns every surface desired, being extremely soft to the touch and delivering astounding tactile sensations. Interior trims start from the classical wood up to aluminium and carbon fibre, but off the record, anything is available – and that applies to everything, including exterior.
BMW AG, the automotive group, is comprised of four makes: BMW, the main brand, Mini, Rolls Royce and Motorrad.
The iconic British brand Mini was acquired in 1994 by BMW AG. Since then, it has become an important sub brand, which marches on the embodiment of the urban spirit, youthfulness and dynamism to promote its products. Launched in 2001, the new generation of Minis has become relevant, once again, under the direct supervision of the BMW parent company. Coming in hatchback, coupe and convertible guise, the marque’s vehicles also have a performance department – the John Cooper Works, which offers, just like the M division for BMW, improvements both inside and outside the vehicle.
Arguably the most luxurious automotive brand in the world, Rolls Royce is also owned by the BMW Group and was acquired in 2002, from Volkswagen, which owns another British luxury brand, Bentley. The Phantom was the first model developed under German leadership, its iconic styling and potent power plant transforming it into a worldwide success. The company now produces two four door limousines – the Phantom and the Ghost, a two door Phantom Coupe and a convertible based on the same model, bearing the name of Phantom Drophead and the wraith, the latest coupe to come from Goodwood, featuring novel elements of style such as a heavily slanted roofline and a redesigned grille. The modifications to both the interior and the exterior of the car are left to the desire of the customer, who is at liberty to ask practically anything, as the company will strive to comply with every request made. As an example of what is possible, note that the number of possible colour combinations for the exterior exceeds 44.000.
BMW also has a motorcycle division, bearing the name of Motorrad. Its product range is comprised of touring, sport, off-road and dual purpose (on/off road) motorcycles and scooters. In 2011, it celebrated the production of its 2.000.000th examples, an R1200GS. The department does not focus exclusively on selling products and accessories, but also provides services, some of its main attractions being worldwide training courses, holidays and service packages. Moreover, it also organizes events through its Motorrad Travel & Adventure program, where owners of a BMW branded bike can join a global community of members and attend various bike trails and contests.
BMW – Future
In 2011, the BMW Group was ranked supersector leader by the DOW JONES Sustainability Index for the 7th time and was declared the most sustainable company in the automotive industry. This feat didn’t come easy, as a host of solutions were implemented in order to achieve this status.
The present vehicles sold by the German company today focus on a decrease of fuel consumption and a lowering of carbon dioxide emission, as well as on keeping a lightweight construction. Secondly, they introduced a hybrid technology in their line-up, with the two i-models, the i-3, a small city car and the i-8, a “progressive sports car”, as they call it. This exercise of design provided them with the first steps towards the electrification of the drivetrain and the introduction of environmentally friendly technologies for their road cars. The BMW ActiveE is another direction in which the automotive group is heading, by relying solely on electric power, with a large battery pack that resides under the hood, where a conventional engine would be, an electric motor in mounted in the rear of the vehicle, just below the boot and a host of power electronics, that would provide the linkage between all these systems.
What will the future hold for the brand, then? For starters, they are actively trying to implement and validate new technologies in both experimental vehicles and in their current fleet. The use of composite materials – primarily carbon fibre – has been introduced in mass production with the emergence of the i-3 and i-8. In parallel with the internal combustion and electric hybrids, there is a special division inside the Group that focuses on hydrogen powered vehicles, optimization of fuel-cell technology and enhancing the in-car entertainment environment.
Blind spots are kept, by design, to a minimum, but in order to provide better all-round visibility, cameras and screens have been introduced. The i-models have two screens, but in the near to distant future, other solutions will be established, alongside head-up displays and better touch and voice input.
As of now, BMW hold the top spot regarding the number of cars that have permanent internet connectivity on the planet – an answer to the digital age and an attempt to attract new age groups. The goal is to think ahead of the times, not remain in the past or the present, because that would mean that the Group as a whole would lose its relevance on the automotive market.
For a brand that was known as centred on motorsport and performance, some surprising facts emerge from studying their existent and future plans of development. For example, 80% of the aluminium used in the production of components is either recycled or made using renewable energy; more than 25% of the weight of thermoplastics is substituted by renewable raw materials or recycled resources; regarding their i-models, the production techniques have lead to a 50% decrease of carbon dioxide emissions by the plants, a decrease of energy used by more than half, 70% less water use and a whopping 100% use of renewable energy by their factory in Leipzig.
Alongside the implementation of the environmentally friendly technologies in their production facilities and range of cars, another concern is the relevance of the vehicles they make in connection to the marketplace demands and demographics. First of all, the design of a new automobile must remain both contemporary and have a dash of futuristic styling, so as to attract not only new clientele, but also turn heads. Considering that the development of a new product costs in the region of one billion Euros, the Group does not like to take unnecessary risks, as that would lead to both non-profitability and, most certainly, to the distrust of not only present customers, but also future ones. Design exercises are encouraged- the proof being the large portfolio of concept vehicles present at various auto shows around the world, but still, pragmatism rules when it comes to introducing a new model on the road.
When it comes to brand purity and exclusivity, let’s keep in mind that the Group also owns Mini and Rolls Royce. The care with which the vehicles specific to each brand are developed is evident when we take into consideration that not even a switch is used interchangeably between any of the models – doing so would be a disaster, especially when it comes to the heritage and pedigree that both of these marques possess. This is done through separate design and engineering teams and only mechanical and electrical components are shared, alongside with production processes and quality control – everything remains under the skin – the visual and tactile experiences are reserved, exclusively, to the sub-brands: BMW is reserved for people who enjoy the driving pleasure, Mini is an urban-centric brand that emphasizes mobility and Rolls Royce represents the absolute pinnacle of luxury and opulence in the car industry.
Considering that the Group has an expansive fleet of models, from small compacts to motorcycles and from station wagons to limousines, the question: “will there be a supercar?” was asked. Both Audi and Mercedes offer such a high performance model – the R8 for the former and the AMG GT for the latter, but so far, there has yet to be a model from BMW to tackle those.
The head of product development at BMW’s M division Carsten Pirest was the one who provided an answer, albeit not the one that we’ve been waiting for. Inside the performance division of the German manufacturer, there is the desire to build such a model, but unfortunately, enthusiasm and desire alone do not suffice in the corporate world. The main reason for which the project has not received a green light yet revolves around money. The sum necessary for the development of a single i-model was reportedly two billion Euros and which explains the reticence with which the leaders of the Group are remaining sceptical about introducing a high-end automobile in the supercar sector. At least for the time being, the M-branded cars will remain the best possible choice from performance aficionados, but there is no word what the future may hold for the brand.