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BMW AG (an acronym for Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, or in English, Bavarian Motor Works), is an independent German company and manufacturer of automobiles and motorcycles. BMW is the parent company of the MINI and Rolls-Royce car brands, and, formerly, Rover.
The company's tagline in English is currently "The Ultimate Driving Machine". The original German slogan is "Freude am Fahren", which translates to "Joy in Driving" in English. In certain regions, BMW also uses the English tagline "sheer driving pleasure" (e.g. Hong Kong).
BMW's main competitors include Acura, Alfa Romeo, Audi, Infiniti, Jaguar, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Saab and Volvo.
BMW was founded by Karl Rapp, originally as an aircraft engine manufacturer, Bayerische Flugzeug-Werke. The Milbertshofen district of Munich was chosen, apparently because it was close to the Gustav Otto Flugmaschinenfabrik site. The blue-and-white roundel BMW still uses (illustrated above right) alludes to the blue and white checkered flag of Bavaria and also indicates the origin of BMW by symbolizing a spinning white propeller on a blue-sky background.
In 1916 the company secured a contract to build V12 engines for Austro-Daimler. Needing extra financing, Rapp gained the support of Camillo Castiglioni and Max Friz, the company was reconstituted as the Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH. Over-expansion caused difficulties; Rapp left and the company was taken over by the Austrian industrialist Franz Josef Popp in 1917, and named BMW AG in 1918.
After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles (1919) prohibited the production of aircraft in Germany. Otto closed his factory and BMW switched to manufacturing railway brakes.
In 1919 BMW designed its first motorcycle engine, used in a model called the Victoria, which was built by a company in Nuremberg.
In 1923 BMW built its first model motorcycle, the R32. This had a 500 cc air-cooled horizontally-opposed engine, a feature that would resonate among their various models for decades to come, albeit with displacement increases and newer technology. The major innovation was the use of a driveshaft instead of a chain to drive the rear wheel. For decades to follow, the driveshaft was the mark of the BMW motorcycle.
In 1927 the tiny Dixi, an Austin Seven produced under licence, began production in Eisenach. BMW bought the Dixi Company the following year, and this became the company's first car, the BMW 3/15. By 1933 BMW were producing cars that could be called truly theirs, offering steadily more advanced I6 sports and saloons (sedans). The pre-war cars culminated in the 327 coupe and convertible, the 328 roadster, fast 2.0 L cars, both very advanced for their time, as well as the upscale 335 luxury sedan.
World War II
BMW motorcycles, specifically the BMW R 12 and the BMW R 75 combination were used extensively by the Aufklärungsabteilung of German panzer and motorised divisions of the German Army, Waffen SS and Luftwaffe.
BMW was also a major supplier of engines to the Luftwaffe and of engines and vehicles, especially motorcycles, to the Wehrmacht. Planes using the aero-engines included the BMW 801, one of the most powerful available. Over 30,000 were manufactured up to 1945. BMW also researched jet engines, producing the BMW 003, and rocket-based weapons. BMW has admitted to using between 25,000 and 30,000 slave labourers during this period, consisting of both prisoners of war and inmates of infamous concentration camps such as Dachau.
The BMW works were heavily bombed towards the end of the war. Of its sites, those in eastern Germany (Eisenach-Dürrerhof, Wandlitz-Basdorf and Zühlsdorf) were seized by the Soviets. The factory in Munich was largely destroyed.
Post-war history
In 1952, BMW produced its first passenger car since the war, but its attempts to get into the premium sector were not commercially successful; models such as the acclaimed BMW 507 were too expensive to build profitably and were low volume. By the late 1950s, it was making bubble-cars such as the Isetta. In 1959 BMW's management suggested selling the whole concern to Daimler-Benz. Major shareholder, Herbert Quandt was close to agreeing such a deal, but changed his mind at the last minute because of opposition from the workforce and trade unions and advice from the board chairman, Kurt Golda. Instead Quandt increased his share in BMW to 50% against the advice of his bankers, and he was instrumental in turning the company around.
That same year, BMW launched the 700, a small car with an air-cooled, rear-mounted 697 cc boxer engine from the R67 motorcycle. Its bodywork was designed by Giovanni Michelotti and the 2+2 model had a sporty look. There was also a more powerful RS model for racing. Competition successes in the 700 began to secure BMW's reputation for sports sedans.
At the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1961, BMW launched the 1500, a powerful compact sedan, with front disc brakes and four-wheel independent suspension. This modern specification further cemented BMW's reputation for sporting cars. It was the first BMW to officially feature the "Hofmeister kink", the rear window line that has been the hallmark of all BMWs since then.
The "New Class" 1500 was developed into 1600 and 1800 models. In 1966, the two-door version of the 1600 was launched, along with a convertible in 1967. These models were called the '02' series-the 2002 being the most famous-and began the bloodline that later developed into the BMW 3 Series.
In 1968, BMW launched its large "New Six" sedans, the 2500, 2800, and American Bavaria, and coupés, the 2.5 CS and 2800 CS.
By the 1970s, BMW was commercially successful and in December 1971, moved in to its present HQ in Munich, architecturally modelled after four cylinders.
In 1972, the 5 Series was launched to replace the New Class sedans, with a body styled by Bertone. The new class coupes were replaced by the 3 Series in 1975, and the New Six became the 7 Series in 1977. Thus the three-tier sports sedan range was formed, and BMW essentially followed this formula into the 1990s. Other cars, like the 6 Series coupes that replaced the CS and the M1, were also added to the mix as the market demanded.
Industry commentators have noted that one of the competition factors influencing BMW's decision to formalise its model structure was the wide-spread marketing success of Ford, with the Escort, Cortina and Granada. These cars, designed and produced in Germany, were dominant during the 1970's and early 1980's. BMW , in order to compete, pitched the new series vehicles squarely at these sectors - the 3 Series was a 'German Escort', the 5 series a 'German Cortina' and the 7 series a 'German Granada', albeit with subtle irony given the origin of the market leaders. Equally, the M3 was the Escort XR3i competitor, the M5 to take on the XR6 Cortina, and the 6 Series to compete head-on with the Capri.
"The English Patient"
Between 1994 and 2000, under the leadership of Bernd Pischetsrieder, BMW owned the Rover Group in an attempt to get into mass market production, buying it from British Aerospace. This brought the active Rover, Mini and Land Rover brands as well as rights to many dormant marques such as Austin, Morris, Riley, Triumph and Wolseley under BMW ownership.
The venture was not successful. For years, Rover tried to rival BMW, if not in product, then in market positioning and "snob appeal". BMW found it difficult to reposition the English automaker alongside its own products and the Rover division was faced with endless changes in its marketing strategy. In the six years under BMW, Rover was positioned as a premium automaker, a mass-market automaker, a division of BMW and an independent unit.
BMW was more successful with the Mini and Land Rover brands, which did not have parallels in its own range at the time.
In 2000, BMW disposed of Rover after years of losses, with Rover cars going to the Phoenix Venture Holdings for a nominal £10 and Land Rover going to the Ford Motor Company. In the press, many years of under-investment by Rover before BMW's ownership were mainly blamed for the debacle although more recently BMW's management and marketing of the marque have been identified by many as the real problems; productivity and industrial relations were generally good during this period. The German press ridiculed the English firm as "The English Patient", after a film at the time. BMW itself, protected by its product range's image, was largely spared the blame - although it was the serious marketing issues that brought Rover down. Even the British press was not particularly sympathetic towards Rover. Land Rover has since enjoyed much greater success as part of Ford's Premier Automobile Group.
BMW retained the rights to Mini, Rover, Triumph and other marques. MINI has been a highly successful business, though the other names have not been used yet.
Redesign Controversy
In the early part of the 2000s, BMW undertook another of its periodic cycles of redoing the 'design language' of its various series of vehicles, under the auspices of newly promoted design chief Christopher Bangle. These designs often featured unconventional proportions with complex concave and convex curved surfaces combined with (sometimes arbitrary-appearing) sharp panel creases and slashes-- a design cue called "flame surfacing" by Bangle. Much of the new language did not rest well with BMW enthusiasts or the automotive press which referred to the new designs as "Bangled" or "Bangle-ized". Bangle is commonly mistaken as having penned all of the designs himself, however he only chose which design was to be used. As Bangle has now been promoted within the company to the BMW Group Head of Design, leaving him in charge of not only BMW but also Rolls-Royce and Mini, some question what long term effect the disaffection of BMW traditionalists for these designs will have on sales, and on the company's future.
However, despite the controversy, BMW sales have increased year after year, showing the buying public's embrace of the new design philosophy, which is to raise the contribution of design to equate with that of engineering in the production of a vehicle. Bangle seems to posture that he wants people to either "love" or "hate" a design, but not be indifferent to it. As such, his designs elicit much more emotional response than previous generations. It should also be noted that BMW's designs, both pre-Bangle and surprisingly since Bangle, are now resonating in the industry at the design level - the "Bangle-butt" rear end of the 7 Series that most found difficult to digest when it first came out in early 2000s, is now appearing in other brands, most notably on the new Lexus LS and the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
What is not well known, however, is that Bangle was indeed responsible for many 'conservative' BMW designs and has worked at BMW for almost a decade. The first X5 sketches (which highly resembled the production car), were designed by him, and under his tenure the E46 3 Series came to be.
Production outside Germany
BMW started producing automobiles at its Spartanburg, South Carolina, plant in 1994. Today, the plant manufactures the BMW X5, the BMW Z4 Roadster and Coupe, and the BMW Z4 M Roadster and Coupe.
Outside Germany, the largest output of the BMW Group comes from British factories. The Hams Hall plant manufactures four cylinder BMW engines for use around the world in 3-Series, 1-Series and Z4 vehicles. This is in addition to MINIs and Rolls-Royces made in Oxford and Goodwood.
The Spartanburg, SC plant is open six days a week, producing automobiles approximately 110 hours a week. It employs about 4,700 people and manufactures over 500 vehicles daily. Recently, the plant has undergone a major renovation switching from 2 production lines down to one. Now both the X5 and the Z4 are produced in the same line, one right after the other.
After a period of local assembly, BMW's Rosslyn, South Africa, plant now manufactures cars, with over 70% of its output destined for export. In the mid-1990s, BMW invested R1bn to make Rosslyn a world-class facility. The plant now exports over 50,000 3 Series cars a year, mostly to the USA, Japan, Australia, Africa and the Middle East.
Starting from October 2004, BMWs are produced in Shenyang, China. BMW has established a joint venture with Chinese manufacturer Brilliance to build BMW 3 Series and 5 Series vehicles for the local market.
The BMW Group is considering the establishment of a new plant which will be located either in Volos,Greece or Limasol,Cyprus.These plants will be manufacturing motorcycles as well as the BMW 1 Series and the BMW 3 Series and will be serving the markets of Eastern Europe and Middle East.The construction will start in 2009 even if it is finally built in Greece or in Cyprus.
BMW is also building a production plant in Chennai, India for production of 3-series and 5-series vehicles. The plant will begin production in 2007.
In the early 1990s, BMW and Rolls-Royce Motors began a joint venture that would see the new Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph and Bentley Arnage adopt BMW engines.
In 1998, both BMW and Volkswagen tried to purchase Rolls-Royce Motors. Volkswagen outbid BMW and bought the company for £430 million, but BMW outflanked its German rival. Although Volkswagen had bought rights to the "Spirit of Ecstasy" mascot and the shape of the radiator grille, it lacked rights to the Rolls-Royce name. Rolls-Royce plc (the aero-engine business) retained the rights over the Rolls-Royce trademark and wished to strengthen its existing business partnership with BMW which extended to the BMW Rolls-Royce joint venture. Consequently, BMW was allowed to acquire the rights to the grille and mascot, and licensed the name and "RR" logo after 2003 for £40 million. Volkswagen was permitted to build Rolls-Royces at its Crewe factory only until 2003, but quickly shifted its emphasis to the Bentley brand.
In the meantime, BMW was faced with the need to build a new factory and develop a new model. The new factory at Goodwood produced the new Rolls-Royce Phantom, unveiled on January 2, 2003, and officially launched at the Detroit Auto Show on January 5, 2003. The model, priced around US$330,000, has experienced record sales worldwide of 796 Phantoms sold in 2005.
BMW introduced the R32 in 1923. It had an unusual "boxer twin" engine, with two air-cooled cylinders protruding from opposite sides of the machine for efficient cooling. Prior to this BMW built the "Flink" 2- stroke and "Helios" motorcycles, as well as supplying M2B15 motors to other companies such as Victoria.
The R series and HP2 enduro have a boxer-twin engine, the K series has an I4 engine (1000 and 1200 cc) or an I3 (750 cc), and the F and G series have single cylinder and parallel twin Rotax engines.
During WWII BMW produced the BMW R75 motorcycle with a sidecar attached. This motorcycle was essentially an 80% interchangeable copy of the ZUndapp KS750, made by BMW to avoid producing the KS750 under licence. Unusually, the sidecar's wheel was also driven. Combined with a lockable differential, this made the vehicle very capable off-road, an equivalent in many ways to the Jeep.
BMW motorcycles tend to be relatively light for their size, and they have a range of models that give an off-road, sporty or relaxed and comfortable ride. All BMW motorcycles except for the F and G series (which have a chain or belt drive) use shaft drive, a characteristic of BMW motorcycles since 1923.
BMW updated the traditional R design in 1993. These new bikes were principally oil-cooled (hence, called oilheads) and had 4 valves per cylinder. (Older Rs are principally air-cooled, and called airheads.) In 2002, BMW updated the oilhead boxer engine, adding double spark plugs per cylinder. In 2004 it added a built-in balance shaft, an increased capacity to 1200 cc and enhanced performance to 100 hp (75 kW) for the R1200GS, compared to 85 hp (63 kW) of the previous R1150GS. The newer BMW 1200cc boxer engine is sometimes called the hexhead engine, due to the slightly hexagonal shape of the valve covers. More powerful variants of the oilhead and hexhead engines are available in the R1100S and R1200S, producing 98hp and 122hp, respectively.
In 2004, BMW introduced the new K1200S Sports Bike which marked a departure for BMW. It is both powerful (the engine is a 167 hp unit derived from the company's work with the Williams F1 team) and significantly lighter than previous K models. It was BMW's latest attempt to keep up with the pace of development of sports machines from the likes of Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Suzuki. Innovations include a unique electronically adjustable front and rear suspension, and a Hossack-type front fork BMW calls Duolever.
BMW was one of the earliest manufacturers to offer anti-lock brakes on production motorcycles. The generation of antilock brakes available on the 2006 and later BMW motorcycles pave the way for the introduction of sophisticated electronic stability control, or anti-skid technology - a first for production motorcycles - later in the 2007 model year.
BMW is an innovator in motorcycle suspension design. Most modern examples use single-sided rear swingarms. Their trademark front suspension design, called the Telelever, was first seen in the early 1990s. The Telelever significantly reduces dive under braking, and is sometimes criticized by sport riders as insulating the rider from road inputs, therefore reducing the rider's "feel" for the roadway. The telescopic fork, also, used on the vast majority of motorcycles today was also first introduced by BMW.