Published on December 11th, 2017 | by Subhash Nair


Why BMW Is At Home In Second Place

In the premium car market today, there are quite a number of brands. While everyone has their personal taste, it can’t be denied that the real fight, both globally and in Malaysia, is between BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

To make a long story short, BMW was the underdog for most of its history. Then in the early 2000s, they took the sales lead away from Benz. But since 2015, Benz has stolen it back. We feel that being No.2 really does fit BMW’s identity better, and here’s why.

*Let’s preface this by saying that there’s nothing wrong with being No.2. In fact, a lot of car companies still look at how BMW is performing and envy them. And being No.2 can still mean earning more profit than No.1 if you price and plan things right. Ok, let’s begin.

It fits the ‘bad boy’ image better

BMW, as a brand, has always been the one with the snarky comments, sarcastic comebacks and a slightly aggressive personality. It’s the bad boy of car brands. I think it’s great. My E34 is the “whatever, old man” answer to the W124. A lot of BMW owners like that about the brand.

But you can’t really stick it to ‘the man’ if you ARE ‘the man’.

The attitude of this car in as many price brackets as possible – that’s what we want

In fact, while BMW enjoyed its time in the top spot, the brand lost its direction somewhat. While just about any other brand can get away with going mainstream, just look at the backlash BMW got when it introduced front-wheel drive cars and made its 3-Series available with just 3-cylinder and hybrid powertrains. It was so un-BMW-like. Of course, it sold them a lot more cars, but the fans weren’t happy.

Everybody makes mistakes.

Now that BMW doesn’t have to focus on making up the numbers, it can go back to making fans happy with raw performance and that same attitude that has defined the brand.

Sportiness can never really be a part of luxury

BMW became no.1 thanks to the brand building done by the phenomenal E39 5-Series and E38 7-Series.

Reinflating tyres – what we all hoped runflats would be like in real life.

James Bond, the Transporter, Clive Oven with Madonna in the back seat.

It was probably the first time the mass market got exposed to that level of performance and luxury in one package.

The Transporter’s E38. When you need the trunk space for moving bodies.

It propelled BMW to the top spot, and soon all the premium brands needed to convert their luxury barges into long-wheelbase speedboats.

But it’s wrong. The most expensive cars need to be the best at what they do. You can be the fastest sports sedan or you can be the most comfortable executive sedan. The needless amount of complicated engineering work to make something in the middle of those two extremes is what’s making it immensely expensive to own a modern premium car for more than 5 years.

With BMW no longer defining luxury as sportiness, we can put things back the way they ought to be.

  • this ties in with point no.1: the BMW brand image does not jive with someone who has ‘made it’ in life. It jives with someone who wants to take down his competitors aggressively. You can either have something to prove or be content with your position in life. If you want to drive and be driven, you need two specialized cars for the right result. There is no tracksuit-tuxedo.

I was wrong. The Traxedo exists. But it probably shouldn’t.

It allows BMW to experiment more freely

A huge part of BMW is engineering. Anybody who’s familiar with how they’ve done things will know just how seriously they take their ingenuity and performance-driven goals. Every time a competitor claimed the top spot in performance, BMW would swoop in and find a new way to win. From the E30 M3 (dethroned the legendary 190E 2.5-16) to the G30/F90 M5 (0-100km/h in 0.1s less than the E63S).

The E30 M3: proof that you can take something ordinary and make it extraordinary

That’s awesome. But today’s challenges in the car industry literally threaten to collapse the whole thing. Autonomous cars (more on that later), ride-hailing apps, electric motors – it’s happening, and everyone’s panicking, trying to keep private car ownership appealing and relevant.

But if you’re not no.1, you don’t have to keep fighting the rest off. You don’t have to worry too much about selling fewer cars. You can do new things, maybe go back to things others have abandoned. You can put your engineers before your marketing department.

Most importantly, you can look beyond market trends and shape things your own way rather than answer to shareholders or filling gaps in the market. It’s all great for the BMW spirit.

You can’t really marry autonomous driving with sheer driving pleasure

It’s pretty clear that almost all cars by 2050 will have autonomous driving capabilities.

Can a brand that’s defined by ‘sheer driving pleasure’ survive a future filled with autonomous cars? Yes. But it needs to go back to its roots.

While the rest of the industry tries to put sales first and ride the technological wave, BMW can do the other thing. They can rip the sensors off their kidney grilles and give the what few real drivers there are left in the future something to actually drive! They can merge the i and M divisions to create pure electric sports sedans. They can do all those things because that’s the kind of freedom you get from not chasing numbers.

About the Author

Written work on @subhashtag on instagram. Autophiles Malaysia on Youtube.

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