Published on July 5th, 2017 | by Subhash Nair4
A Comprehensive Guide on How BMW Lost Its Way
Let’s start off with a couple of disclaimers.
1) BMW still makes very fun cars. I have yet to test a Beemer that lacked character, but over the years, it seems the much loved car company has lost its way.
2) I myself am a BMW owner. Mind you, it’s 23 years old, but I love it because it exists right in between BMW’s modern and classic line. Basically it’s the last model they released with a small kidney grille and no cover over the headlights.
But the company has been slowly spiralling down and it’s pretty embarassing to watch. Here’s our take on what they’re doing wrong.
- Compromising on their once-legendary powertrains
Back in the day, BMW built their fanbase with the promise of “Sheer Driving Pleasure” from their “Ultimate Driving Machine”. They did this by providing a naturally aspirated straight six engines and rear wheel drive on all popular models.
Look at the line up today. The 7-Series is powered by a 2-litre engine. The 2 Series line has front-wheel drive models. The 3-Series starts with a 3-cylinder engine. They even changed their tagline to “Designed for Driving Pleasure”. Which is the weakest thing any German car company has said about their own products.
I understand that the environment is a big concern, but smaller turbocharged engines are a poor, temporary answer. Shouldn’t BMW be taking on Tesla more directly on the electric-performance front? Instead, they have an embarrassing-to-look-at i3 and an unattainable i8, both of which aren’t even completely electric. (The i3 has a little engine that acts as a generator as a range extender).
They let a small American car company with almost no experience embarrass them, and years later, they still don’t have an answer.
Newsflash: Volvo just announced that by 2019, all their models will have an electric-only option.
- Reversing Decisions
Before Mercedes-Benz reclaimed their throne, BMW was, for a decade, the King of premier brands. They made bold decisions, but more importantly, they stuck to their vision without compromise.That’s the attitude that wins in the premium segment.Look at the Chris Bangle era. Not everyone liked the way these cars looked, but cars like the E60 5-Series pushed flame surfacing and other new design features like the ‘shark fin’ antenna into the market place.
The E39 before it introduced ‘Angel Eyes’.What did the F10 and G30 bring? Larger grilles. Audi started the whole ‘my grill is biggest’ game with the B7 and B8 A4. BMW grilles have been getting ridiculously wide as a response.
Maybe it’s time they started acting like leaders instead of followers.
By reacting to the market instead of focusing on better products, they’ve lost the ball. As a result, they’ve lost their global and local lead to Mercedes-Benz.
- Trying to fill the gap with sub-par products
We’re all familiar with platform sharing and the process of making new variants out of the same parts. Even their main competitiors, Audi and Benz do the same thing. But some of these variants just don’t deserve to be called BMWs.Audi’s motto, “Vorsprung Dursch Technik” indicates that they lead by adopting new tech faster. Fair enough.Benz’s “The Best or Nothing”, shows a strong stance, building on the brand’s reputation. Also, OK. Sure, it’s all marketing fluff anyway.But when you look at BMW’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” or the newer “Designed for Driving Pleasure” something immediately pops: these are cars that put the driver first.
Sure enough, as we mentioned, all their cars are great to drive. The problem is, how do you make an MPV or SUV with a ‘driver-first’ approach? The result is cars like the X5. Put one next to a XC90 and you’ll see just how poorly BMW have done.
And the 330e? A hybrid 3-Series? We had to fill up petrol twice in one day because the fuel tank was so small and the car was too fun to drive slowly.
And yet it wasn’t quite as well sorted as the 320i that it replaced. What’s the point of making it a hybrid in the first place?
Oh that’s right, to fill a gap in the market of course. No one buys a 330e to save the environment.
- No significant design revolution in a decade
We mentioned the Bangle-era before. They weren’t the prettiest BMWs, but when they came out, they looked like nothing else on the road.In fact, a clean E60 could still pass a concept car today. Since then, BMW has taken a step back into more conservative designs and nothing has really evolved since. The designs have gotten busier and the grille has gotten wider, but there’s really nothing that shows design innovation.
BMWs have always had aggressive, handsome designs. But there’s a certain laziness to their current approach. It’s as if the last time anything really developed was when the E90 3-Series was face lifted. After that, Control+C, Control+V, then add busy-ness.
- Poor Product Strategy
Whether you like BMW’s design direction or not is a matter of personal taste.But here’s the problem: the 7-Series looks like the 3-Series. The 5-Series looks like the 7-Series. You might say that this is true of its competitors, but with BMW, the 3-Series (F30) was launched before the 7- and 5- (G10, G30).Having the flagship sedans follow the trend set by the baby Beemer is a reverse of what you want to be doing. Yes, there are changes, but the F30 was the one to define the shape that’s being used.
BMW was once about selling a superior driving experience. Yes, the driving experience is still great, but they seem to be pushing the ‘lifestyle’ element a bit too hard.
BMW Group has other brands to play around with. In fact, they’ve already milked the MINI brand hard on the lifestyle aspect.
Why not just focus the BMW brand a little more on driving?
An example of how misguided their strategy is can be observed by looking at the latest 6-Series GT. They could have called it a 5-Series GT, but instead they backed down (the 5-Series GT was introduced just one generation ago) and reassigned the 6-Series as an ‘alternative body style’ of the 5-Series!
Sure, it’s up to BMW to define what each Series means, but the 6-Series was meant to be SPECIAL. Look at the 1st gen E24.
2nd gen E63/E64
3rd gen F06/F07/F13
All three of these were extremely distinct and looked a lot more special than their 5-Series counterparts.
Out of nowhere, BMW puts out this. Which looks like an awkward, squished up 5-Series.
Let’s play a game.
Which one of these is the 5-Series and which is the 6-Series GT:
Pick as fast as you can!
Have you picked?
BMW staff/fans, play along too!
If you said the one on the right was the 6-Series, you’d be wrong.
If you said the one on the left was the 6-Series, you would also be wrong.
They’re both variants of the 5-Series.
This is the actual 6-Series. Couldn’t you tell? Of course not. Because it’s also a variant of the 5-Series. With 2% more curves.
- Exploiting existing customer base by using expensive, poorly made parts
I drive a 5-Series (E34) and as much as I love the car, there are things that bother me. The interior is in a constant state of disrepair. Parts warp, bend, break and tear all the time.
In a Mercedes-Benz E-Class (W124) or an Audi A6 (C4) you get pretty exceptional interiors.That’s fine. I’m prepared to let BMW slide if they were investing money on beating the competition elsewhere at the time.
However, it’s 2017 and BMW build quality has only gotten worse. The 330e we tested, it had a sunroof. The sunroof cover had slats where a little bit of sunlight would always peak in, which is a nice design feature.The problem is, the area where the sunlight peaked in was discoloured. The test car we got couldn’t have been more than a few months old, and yet plastics were already breaking down.
An associate of mine who has a one year old F30 BMW had to get his service centre to realign the doors because they didn’t fit well out of the factory. Plus, they’re made of aluminium, so if you’re thinking of fixing a small ding or knock you’re out of luck. You need to buy a new door panel.
Some of the engines on the F30 are known to burn engine oil with excessive use. Next time you’re behind a 3-Series in traffic, take a look at his exhaust pipe for blue-grey smoke.
Look at older BMW diesels. Most have got injector problems. They’ve even stopped selling new diesel-equipped cars. Why? No official reason given, but our guess is that they forgot to test for higher palm oil-derived biodiesel even though anyone in the industry could have seen this coming in the ASEAN region. So what happens to the current BMW diesel owners? Warranty void? Let’s see how it plays out.
- Exploiting new car buyers
It’s safe to say that most people who want to own BMWs for the first time are not quite aware of the true costs. That’s OK. A lot of premium brands lure new customers with effective marketing.But not many brands post ridiculously high sticker prices and then have a ‘pre-registered’ sale to make up the numbers.
This has been a cheap tactic of BMW for years. We can’t comment on whether it’s part of the global strategy, but we’ve seen reports of equally dubious ‘dealer buying’ schemes in the US that help BMW bloat up their sales numbers. There are owners who used to get the 320i at just over RM200,000. That’s the sticker price of the current 318i.
All you have to do is wait for the sale, and take whatever colour they have in stock. Imagine the number of people who pay sticker price for their cars. That’s the kind of betrayal BMW puts inexperienced buyers through.
- No resale value
With all these problems, it’s not surprising that used BMWs are ‘as cheap as a new Vios’, as one recent post suggests. Resale value reveals everything.All brands go for ‘planned obsolescence’ to keep selling more cars to the next generation, but BMW seems to go a step further. They make cars that are designed to be driven hard. Then they make those cars extra flimsy.
Then they make their parts more expensive. And the customers come back for more.If you love driving and you want a BMW, by all means buy one. You have to experience them once. But understand that this is a company that did all its marketing 20 years back with superior products and a solid game plan. If you buy into their products now, know that you’re buying into a pretty lost brand.
- Lost brand identity
A couple of things alerted me to BMW’s identity crisis. The first was their awkward approach to self-driving and electric powertrains. We addressed the latter above (330e, i3, and i8), but the former is really concerning. The new 5-Series, 7-Series and X3 come with some limited self-driving features.The way BMW are treating these features is like a gimmick.
Why should anyone be excited to treat their car like a dog? What’s exciting about having your car drive a metre out? It’s a show-off feature. It’s to show off to people who visit your house.
Gesture controls. You have to take your hands off the steering (where volume buttons are) to do silly movements to reduce the volume. Show off to people in your car.
Over the years, BMWs have developed a following of show offs.
This was a complete accident. Building a car that outperforms other big money cars takes a lot of engineering effort. Their older cars were built to perform well, and this led to BMWs being seen as cars that could punch above their weight class.
That attracted kids with big egos and big wallets but not a lot of sense. Not every BMW driver is immature, but the consequence of BMW’s direction is that the brand is now strongly associated with immaturity. That’s why a lot of the older folk tend to find BMWs a little too flashy.The problem is this.
BMW bought into this flashiness. They bought into this immaturity. They saw that their fanbase now consisted mainly of young, entitled people and began to build towards that identity.
I fully realised this when I watched BMW M’s latest slew of videos. The ‘Too Much’ campaign. Here are some clips:
What you see there is pure douchebaggery. It’s ‘cool’ to hate cyclists. It’s ‘cool’ to be loud and late to your relative’s wedding. It’s ‘cool’ to put your mother-in-law through misery. It’s ‘cool’ to put material objects over people. It’s ‘cool’ to show children who’s boss.
Why is BMW doing this? Their brand used to be about performance. That performance meant they could bully the competition on the track/autobahn. That attracted an immature fan base. Now the brand is pandering to their fans because every car is turbocharged and all cars have driving aids.
But you know what’s cool? Being confident in your product. Teslas are cool. Mercedes-Benz vehicles are cool. Volvo’s recent announcement of all-electric variants on all models? Very Cool. BMW? Lost.