Driving into the Future
Iconic German automobile manufacturer BMW celebrated its 100 year anniversary on March 7th. For one day, the company halted production throughout their 30 international plants, and invited their workers – all 116,000 of them – to join them in toasting a century of success.
BMW bosses took full advantage of the occasion, and unveiled their vision of the ‘car of the future’ – a hyper-modern super vehicle that includes, among many hi-tech features, a self-driving facility and a digital driving companion that has the ability to predict the driver’s thoughts.
It’s the newest innovation of a company that has constantly sought to develop bigger and better ideas. CEO Harald Krüger predicts at least a 20 year wait before the first models come out but used the unveiling to highlight BMW’s innate ability to adapt to changes in the market and society.
The Company’s Nazi Past
Today, BMW is an iconic German brand that enjoys a solid reputation both at home and abroad. Their stats are impressive; steady sales of over 2 million cars a year, sales of over 88 billion EUR per annum, and having overtaken Mercedes-Benz as the world’s leading luxury brand in.
Despite the recent economic slump in China, and stiff competition from other high-end car manufacturers, the company has been holding steady and maintaining growth against the odds for years, leading The Economist to dub them “a benchmark for success in the German automobile industry”.
However, BMW’s route to success wasn’t always so smooth. The company started out in 1916 as the Bayerische Motoren Werke – that’s Bavarian Engine Manufacturers, FYI – and worked solely on producing aircraft engines. They launched their first motorbikes soon after, and in 1928 their first car, the Dixi 3/15, hit the market.
Following the years of the Great War and World War Two, BMW shifted its focus to producing engines for the Luftwaffe. Its owner Günter Quandt was a member of the Nazi party and enjoyed very close ties with those at the top. His business empire exploited over 50,000 forced laborers, many of them forced in concentration camp. 25,000 of them were “employed” at various BMW plants, one of which was situated in close proximity to the notorious Dachau camp.
Until recent years the company was reluctant to admit its ties to the Nazi party, and refused to accept responsibility for harm caused or donate money to survivors.
However, the Quandt family, who still own the company, commissioned a study that dug into their shady past. In 2011, they admitted their Nazi past, apologized and paid their dues.
A Steady rise ever Since
After the war, things looked shaky for BMW when the decline in motorbike sales and stiff competition from mass-market car producers threatened to lead to a takeover by Daimler. Fortunately Herbert Quandt pushed the company to make mid-range cars (such as the BMW 1500 in 1959) and pulled the company back from the brink.
Since then, BMW’s only major fault was their disastrous acquisition of the Rover Group in 1994. After trying to resuscitate the ailing British company for six years, they finally admitted defeat in 2000 and sold off most of the group, keeping only the Mini, which went on to achieve huge mass-market success. The company rebuilt itself again, and has been doing big business since current CEO Norman Reithofer and his “number one” strategy put them back on the map for good.
Experts worry that the company could be facing hard times as their stream of ideas, slows to a trickle. Competitors such as Mercedes, Jaguar, and Volvo are upping their game in a bid to corner a larger share of the luxury market, and typical mass market brands such as Citroen and Ford have been experimenting with premium auto production with varying levels of success.