BMW: Maintaining Its Relevance as a Luxury Performance Brand

An interview with Sebastian Beuchel, director, BMW Brand Management
September 14, 2017 Updated: September 14, 2017

BMW Group Canada has enjoyed success in this country since the brand opened its doors back in 1986. In Canada, 2016 was a banner year with just over 38,000 units sold across their extensive product line. This represented the best year yet and for 2017, the indications are that the year will likely yield a new sales record for this luxury performance brand.

Back in November 2016, Sebastian Beuchel and his family left Germany after 14 years with BMW Group in a variety of different positions including sales, marketing, and of course product, to come to BMW Canada. All the while growing his knowledge of the marque so that his time here would not only benefit him and his career, it would also further solidify BMW’s position as one of the better known German-based global automotive manufacturers in the world.

Sebastian Beuchel (BMW Canada)
Sebastian Beuchel (BMW Canada)

On a Friday afternoon before a long weekend, we met up with Mr. Beuchel and discussed a few timely topics regarding the German-based brand.

First and foremost, the question likely most asked of BMW is this: what makes a BMW a BMW? Obviously it’s more than a badge and a series of numbers on the rear of the vehicle. It’s the sum of the parts. Frankly, Mr. Beuchel sees the BMW proposition in their current tag line—”The Ultimate Driving Experience.” To him, those words express and define the core of what BMW truly is. Quite simply, BMW is all about handling and dynamics—being sporty. But there is also a distinguished elegance, conveying power, a muscular and confident stance, design second to none and innovation and technology. All this is built into every BMW which comes off a production line regardless where that happens to be in the world. It’s a part of each and every car or utility vehicle’s DNA.

So much so, he believes that two particular concept vehicles make all these points very clearly without equivocation—the BMW 8 Series and the recently unveiled Z4.

BMW concept 8-series (BMW Canada)
BMW concept 8 Series (BMW Canada)

BMW is a Marque Known For Performance and Innovation

“Consistency is one of BMW’s promises. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a 2 Series sedan, a 6 Series coupe or one of their many premium SUVs—each has a feel that supports the driver in their ultimate enjoyment of the vehicle. Other manufacturers may come close but none has the consistency across the model lineup that BMW does.”

Furthermore, according to Mr. Beuchel, BMW places a heavy emphasis on rear-wheel drive power. It is a marque known for performance, after all. And yes, while many vehicles in the current corporate lineup have BMW’s proprietary xDrive all-wheel drive, each retains a rear wheel bias that provides a sporty feel, allowing the driver to control the car to a degree with judicious throttle application. Drive any BMW model and you will find the steering and cornering ability make you feel like you are part of the experience instead of just being along for the ride.

BMW m4 cs (BMW Canada)
BMW M4 CS (BMW Canada)

On the topics of performance and driving, it appears that Canadians have also embraced the “M” Series of ultra-performance vehicles. There will be as many as 12 models for model year 2018, from the M2 Coupé to the X6 M. The M is in homage to BMW’s history within motorsports and that is precisely what the M stands for! As well as highly tuned engines, M cars feature, among other things, specially tuned suspension for a more dynamic drive, plus different engine and transmission mountings, springs, dampers, and mapping for the power steering. M cars also extensively use lightweight materials including carbon fibre, to reduce overall weight and improve cooling through enhanced aerodynamics.

Basically, BMW engineers take a popular configuration vehicle, such as the one for the 3 Series, for example and then tweak and tune the heck out of it. At first glance, they may appear pretty much the same, but sit behind the wheel, settle in and start it up—the differences will soon be quite apparent as you slip the transmission into gear. Now having said that, we should point out that there are differences within M. For example, a BMW M4 CS is a vehicle that has been deliberately engineered at the factory to be driven hard and fast and the tuning and dynamic set-up address all of that. A true M-car is not for the faint of heart. A certain driving skill level is definitely required. Consider these vehicles to be extreme. In addition, some vehicles regardless of whether a sedan or even an SUV or CUV are given an M-performance package. While this will create often subtle differences to the car in terms of performance and handling, it is not a total conversion to a true motorsport automobile.

BMW i3s exterior (BMW Canada)
BMW i3s exterior (BMW Canada)

The Electrification of a Performance-Oriented Brand

The conversation continued and the topic of BMW’s commitment to electrification came up. Not something that you might readily associate with a luxury performance brand, but customers need not be alarmed nor misled. When BMW made the commitment to EVs more than 10 years ago, to some, the introduction of electric vehicles to the BMW lineup was odd. However, as stated earlier, BMW is considered to be an innovator and the introduction of EV-type technology as either an add-on electric motor for a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or straight hybrid and even a pure battery electric vehicle (BEV) could and was accomplished without any compromise whatsoever to the brand. As a global automotive manufacturer, BMW believes they will continue to adhere to their overall brand promise—the ultimate driving experience.

BMW i3s interior (BMW Canada)
BMW i3s interior (BMW Canada)

Consequently in February 2011, BMW announced a new sub-brand, BMW i, to market the vehicles produced under Project i. The primary premise behind the “i” series of automobiles was and will continue to be to build comprehensive and ground-breaking auto concepts for ecological mobility. This represents visionary electric vehicles and mobility services, inspiring design and a new understanding of premium luxury that is strongly defined by sustainability. The first two production models are the BEV i3, an emission-free car for city/urban driving and a plug-in, eye-catching progressive electric sport hybrid called the BMW i8.

As Mr. Beuchel explains it, globally there was strong initial success from the i3 and i8. Since BMW i’s market launch in November 2013, the BMW Group has delivered more than 100,000 electric cars and plug-in hybrids to customers worldwide up to the end of 2016. Further, the BMW i3 has achieved more than 60,000 units sold since its introduction, making it the most successful electric vehicle in the premium compact segment. Also, the BMW i8 ranks first among electrified sports cars, with more than 10,000 delivered globally since the middle of 2014.

BMW i3s (BMW Canada)
BMW i3s (BMW Canada)

In Frankfurt recently the next generation of i3 for model year 2018, was announced. These vehicles will exhibit a wider sta

nce, and the first ever BMW i3s is the most powerful BMW i3 to date. Its athletic character is reflected via design elements highlighting width and a sports suspension that includes a 10-millimetre drop in height. The black wheel arch moldings emphasize an increase of 40 millimetres track width compared to the BMW i3 providing a stable stance and visually a broader presence.

All in all, the future looks exciting for BMW as they move forward without compromise.

David Taylor is an independent automotive lifestyle writer, producer, and editor based in Barrie, Ontario who is fascinated by innovation and technology which enhance the overall driving experience. He’s also a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and is a Director of that organization’s Canadian Car of the Year Award. Follow him on Twitter @Omemeeozzie or on Instagram @hugoscaroftheweek.