One hundred years to the day since BMW AG was entered into the commercial register – the BMW Group will launch its centenary activities.
Pioneering moments and milestones in the history of the BMW Group.
Pioneering decisions and products from the past continue to make their mark on the BMW Group today.
The BMW Group has had a significant influence on the future of mobility ever since it was founded in 1916. Over the years, it has constantly evolved, rising to its position today as a premium provider of mobility services. The capacity for foresighted action is a part of the BMW Group’s DNA – as evidenced at many points throughout its history and by numerous decisions and products.
Some pioneering moments in the history of the company:
Introduction of the BMW R 32 – a major influence across the industry.
Launched in 1923, the R 32 was far more than just the first bike to sport the blue and white brand logo on its tank; it was evidence, even then, of the company’s courage in departing from familiar pathways to engineer its very first vehicle, coming up with a design developed completely around the engine. This approach would become not only a trademark of BMW motorcycle construction but also a major influence across the industry as a whole.
Born Electric Launch of BMW i – another milestone showing the power to completely rethink and redesign mobility.
Coupled with the power to rethink and redesign mobility from its very foundations, this courage remained clearly in evidence 90 years later: in 2013, the Born Electric motto marked the market launch of the all-electric BMW i3 – and with it the start of a new era. Based on an architecture comprising a lightweight carbon passenger cell on an aluminium chassis, the BMW i3 was a complete departure from all that had gone before. Instead, it set out to meet the specific requirements of electro-mobility.
Presentation of the BMW 328 embodying dynamics, aesthetics and sheer innovation – qualities the BMW brand stands for to this day.
At the Nürburgring in June 1936, the first public display of the BMW 328 was to define the young brand’s motorsport ambitions right up to the 1960s. The success of the BMW 328 lay in the sum of its engineering parameters: rigorously applied lightweight design, ideal weight distribution, aerodynamic lines, the perfect engine, and flawless road-holding thanks to a meticulously tuned chassis. The BMW 328 laid the foundation for an entirely new understanding of what a car could be: success through performance based on the perfect interplay between maximum efficiency and the full spectrum of parameters. By incorporating these qualities, the BMW 328 embodied everything the BMW brand stands for to this day: dynamics, aesthetics and sheer innovation.
BMW 1500 – the founding member of the “Neue Klasse” – a new segment, the family sport saloon.
Over the years, the BMW Group has proven time and again its instinct for creating the right cars and motorcycles at the right time. Many of its products have even established entirely new vehicle segments: in the early 60s, for example, the “Neue Klasse” (“New Class”) BMW 1500 became the founding member of the family sport saloon segment. Today, this segment is served by every premium manufacturer.
An entirely new bike concept
In the late 1970s, when competition from the Far East was increasing, motorcycle developers at BMW came up with a surprise in the shape of an entirely new bike concept, launched in 1980: the R 80 G/S. At the time, it was the first and only large-engined off-roader to offer the ride qualities of a road bike. The “GS” went on to lay the foundation for one of the most popular motorcycle types today: the travel enduro.
Unveiling of the first SAV : BMW X5
The innovative concept to combine on and off-road capabilities turned out to be highly promising – and not just for bikes. Back in 1999, the automotive world still distinguished between passenger vehicles for the road and off-roaders for rough terrain. BMW, however, came up with a surprising new solution that combined both. It was unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show in January 1999. Long before the SUV boom began, the BMW Group had developed its own interpretation of a vehicle that offered dynamic handling and all-wheel drive as well as elevated seating positions for occupants. The name SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) expressed its sporty focus: it was the BMW X5, manufactured at the US plant in Spartanburg.
Establishment of BMW Motorsport GmbH
It is not only products that have brought the BMW Group such success; so, too, have its pioneering decisions. One such decision concerned the establishment in 1972 of BMW Motorsport GmbH. For the company’s top decision-makers, the fact that motorsport contributed to the positive image of the company and its products was not enough; the vehicles the Motorsport unit produced should also generate significant returns with which to refinance motorsport activities. To this day, products by BMW M GmbH remain a major contributor not only to the company’s results but also to its image.
Opening of the FIZ BMW Group’s Research & Development Centre in Munich
Many of the BMW Group’s innovations are created in the highly progressive environment of the company’s Research & Development Centre in Munich, known as the FIZ. Opened in 1990, the building has a honeycomb structure that enhances collaboration between all the departments involved in vehicle development by reducing the distances between them. Along with a new building, the engineers were newly organised into “development project teams”, which enabled them to communicate more efficiently and resolve issues directly on their first prototypes. In addition, they could maintain constant contact with the designers, as they were also based in the FIZ and were available to discuss their proposals right from the start. Concentrating development work in the FIZ has proven highly successful over the years and continues to evolve to this day. The facility’s Aerodynamics Test Centre for example, first went into operation in 2009 and is now considered a benchmark around the world. Plans are already under way to continuously extend the FIZ over the coming decades.
BMW Group: Facing up to the past
As well as its many successes, the BMW Group has faced several major crises and challenges during its history.
1930s and 1940s
Under the National Socialist regime of the 1930s and 40s, BMW AG operated exclusively as a supplier to the German arms industry. As demand for BMW aero engines increased, forced labourers, convicts and prisoners from concentration camps were recruited to assist with manufacturing them. To this day, the enormous suffering this caused and the fate of many forced labourers remains a matter of the most profound regret. In 1983, BMW AG became the first industrial corporation to initiate a public debate about this chapter of its history with the publication of a book entitled “BMW – Eine Deutsche Geschichte” (“BMW – A German History”). Several more publications on the subject followed. The BMW Group is explicitly facing up to this dark chapter of its past and in 1999, it became a founding member of the foundation “Erinnerung, Verantwortung, Zukunft” (“Remembrance, Responsibility and Future”) for the compensation of former forced labourers.
Since the 1990s, the BMW Group has been actively engaging in efforts to promote openness, respect and understanding between cultures
9 December 1959
In the years after the war, BMW, or the Bavarian Motor Works, to give it its full name, was slow to recover. While 1950s Germany was in the midst of the “economic miracle”, BMW AG found itself in severe crisis and on the verge of losing its independence by being sold to rival Daimler-Benz. At a dramatic General Meeting on 9 December 1959, plans for the sale were scuppered, however, by small shareholders and BMW dealers. Impressed by the faith that shareholders and dealers placed in BMW, one of the company’s larger shareholders, industrialist Herbert Quandt, decided to find an alternative solution, which he worked on in discussions with the Management Board and Works Council. Detailed analyses showed that BMW had a promising future.
The entrepreneurial commitment of Herbert Quandt and his family continues to secure the autonomy of BMW AG to this day.
The strength and resilience of the BMW Group were also apparent in later years. The oil crisis of the early 1970s and the unsuccessful acquisition of Rover in the 1990s were two challenging situations; the company emerged from both empowered.
Over the years, the BMW Group has demonstrated its acute brand awareness on many occasions. As well as developing the core BMW brand and realigning it after the crisis of 1959, it went on to establish the BMW Motorrad name. In 2001 and 2003 respectively, it also rekindled the success of the UK’s MINI and Rolls-Royce brands thanks in part to cutting-edge technology.
Since then, the continued enhancement of the BMW, BMW Motorrad, MINI and Rolls-Royce brands has allowed the BMW Group to secure a strong position in the premium segment. “The company has constantly developed and sometimes even reinvented itself,” says Harald Krüger, BMW AG Management Board Chairman.
“As we move into the future, that’s not going to change.”