(Editor’s note: Since the spring, we’ve been staggered by BMW’s steady stream of announcements concerning its future and its future products and technologies. The latest came in London this week with the unveiling of Mini and Rolls-Royce concepts. They came on the heels of BMW’s VISION NEXT 100 showcase in the spring. What’s BMW planning for the next 20 years? BMW’s hopes and dreams for the future will perhaps become clear if we travel to the future, to the summer of 2036.)
It is June 2036, six years since every new car sold in Germany became emissions-free. Shocking.
Twenty years earlier, many experts and much of the public scoffed when Deputy Economy Minister Rainer Baake told a Berlin climate forum that the German Government planned a dramatic emissions clamp-down. And then it happened.
Naysayers and cynics everywhere were stunned to see the regulations take effect as planned in Germany. Shortly afterwards, similar regulations were implemented across Europe. From there, the emissions-free regulatory movement expanded to China, the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere. Automakers as a group were stunned by the swiftness of regulatory change.
But they adapted. And despite vigorous opposition from oil companies, many oil-producing countries and various lobby groups, public opinion was behind this effort to address the frightening realities of climate change. The problems and challenges could no longer be ignored.
In 2036, the roads of Europe, China, the U.S., Canada, Japan and elsewhere are filled with fully-connected plug-in vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells cars, all of them capable of driving themselves or being piloted by interested and sometimes even enthusiastic drivers. It is now possible to go running every day in Beijing.
This is exactly what BMW envisioned way back in 2016. BMW was celebrating its 100th birthday with a tediously staged rollout of the company’s plan for the next 100 years – a plan that began with a mouthful of a name: The BMW VISION NEXT 100: What will Sheer Driving Pleasure look like in the future?
BMW in 2016, said critics, appeared to have morphed into a riddle wrapped in swagger. Why, many wondered, had BMW become obsessed with a sweeping plan to completely reinvent a company that had grown fat selling cars like the M3, M5 and Alpina B6 Gran Coupes? BMW had driven the “ultimate driving machine” to record sales and rich profits. Why change? Why go about touting a “vision” of an almost unrecognizable BMW of the future, doing so with an air of self-confidence that bordered on the self-righteous?
At the midpoint of 2016, in fact, BMW’s image of a car company making the world’s best high-horsepower driving machines for wealthy, brand-conscious buyers appeared in jeopardy. The fat investments in the “green” and connected technologies called for in VISION NEXT 100 seemed to have sapped the company of its vitality, not to mention the resources needed to retain the global luxury sales crown BMW had held for a decade.
Forecasters were predicting that by the end of 2016 or 2017 at the latest, Mercedes-Benz would supplant BMW as the world’s No. 1 luxury carmaker by sales. Critics were noting that while BMW’s R&D expenditures were rising by double-digits each year, those resources were not filling the product pipeline with vehicles to drive sales in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. Mercedes, in particular, was in 2016 greatly out-performing BMW in terms of sales and profits.
Instead of zeroing in on the present, BMW was spending billions of euros on Vision Next 100 concepts and the technologies in them. At BMW’s annual meeting in 2016, CEO Harald Krueger said the automaker’s long-range battery electric vehicle (range of 500 km-plus) would not arrive for several years. Several years?
The EV replacement for the 7-Series sedan would not come to market until 2021 — long after Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla Motors planned to weigh in with their so-called EV “game changers.” The slow rollout of long-range BMW EVs had industry analysts scratching their heads. Why so slow? And tepid sales of BMW’s i3 and i8 EV/hybrid were worrisome.
Then in late spring 2016, just a month after BMW proudly announced a massive development strategy shift to more EVs and autonomous technology to address a “new era” in the industry, the company was rocked by the defection of the core development team of its i3 and i8 electric vehicle lineup. To a Chinese startup.
Undeterred by this terrible setback and unmoved by the wrath of critics and sceptical analysts, BMW’s brass spent 2016 making bold promises based on provocative assumptions.
BMW’s chief spokesman and the global head of sales and marketing, told Automotive News that BMW’s plan going forward assumed that “in the major metropolitan areas, mobility 20 years from now will center on autonomous, shared and zero-emissions cars. We will be seeing increasing regulation of that kind, and we have to adapt our business model quickly to suit the new paradigms.”
CEO Krueger insisted that BMW would maintain its current business and profitability while at the same time turning its focus to the new line of premium products and services for “individual mobility” – more specifically, “electric mobility and automated driving.” BMW, he added, would hold onto its existing customers but planned to attract new ones looking for a 21st century interpretation of the “ultimate driving machine.”
BMW’s Vision 100, its blueprint for “ssustainable, premium, individual mobility,” finally came into focus in June 2016. While the March 2016 rollout of BMW VISION NEXT 100 was a fuzzy collection of promises lacking tangible evidence of what a range of actual products might look and feel like, the June announcement in London was different. It included Mini and Rolls-Royce concepts – concepts of substance.
BMW said it would not surrender the “ultimate driving” space at all, as many had feared. “BMW drivers will want to continue driving themselves most of the time and constant connectivity, digital intelligence and cutting-edge technologies will enhance the ultimate driving experience,” said the company.
But if drivers wanted to hand over active control of the vehicle, that would also be possible in every BMW. Future models in “Ease” mode would be autonomous; in “Boost” mode, the driver would be in charge and the car itself would behave like a “BMW.”
“All in all, our goal was to preserve BMW’s DNA – the close emotional attachment between driver and the car – because that’s what BMW is all about – and will always be about,” said Robertson, the marketing boss and chief spokesman.
The concepts BMW showed from mid-2016 onwards made things clear. The BMW VISION NEXT 100 showed what “Sheer Driving Pleasure” could look like in future BMW models. The MINI VISION NEXT 100 was all about completely individualised, permanently available urban mobility. The Mini brand would become BMW’s city car brand, then.
The future of bespoke or fully customized automotive luxury was shown in the Rolls-Royce VISION NEXT 100. Then in the fall of 2016, BMW showed its plan for motorcycles and scooters in the Motorrad VISION NEXT 100.
By 2025, BMW’s plan had really taken shape in the marketplace. Old-style dashboards laden with instruments and controls had been replaced by an interactive “windscreen” that functioned as a window on the road ahead AND a fully functional information and control centre. Artificial intelligence had also been introduced – the cars themselves learning what drivers want and when, and then interacting with them through a gemstone-like device on the dashboard called “Companion.”
True, BMW suffered a slip in sales in the early 2020s, as the scope of its transformation began to take hold – as the “old” BMW was ushered out and the “new” one envisioned the previous decade began to emerge. By the end of the 2020s, BMW’s strategy had taken hold. A slight dip in actual sales had been offset by a dramatic increase in revenues from the sale of technology-laden vehicles and a completely new mobility services company.
Today in 2036, BMW remains an independent automaker/mobility provider, still controlled by the Quandt family. A line of BMW lunar vehicles designed to operate in the low-gravity environment of the Moon is in the works.