There’s a certain understated appeal to a BMW. Despite the iconic badging & front fascia, performance engineering and innovative technology, the overall design of a BMW remains tastefully grounded. Sleek, but never bold, a BMW evokes imagery of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Even to an undiscerning eye, the external design reads instantly as high-end, but never immediately as a vehicle to deliver the transformative driving experience it is known for.
Pick any driver, in any city. Driving past a BMW dealership, drivers are unlikely to lock their eyes upon its inventory unless they are a true enthusiast. Almost a form of automotive Darwinism, the BMW masks itself to the casual passerby. And like the ultimate predator, the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine” is seen only when it wants to be.
Survival of the Fittest
BMW’s are the product of a unified philosophy, a commitment to tradition, continual evolution, tireless innovation and a desire to assume guardianship of where the ‘bar of excellence’ is set. It is the consistency with which these ideals endure that set BMW apart from its competitors. It is where Audi still has yet to master the learning curve, and where Mercedes seems often avoid of the proper motivation.
This is what empowers BMW to place their focus on performance, and overall innovation. Besides, is it really any surprise that the product of Bavarian engineering is less interested in the flash of aesthetics, and more fixated on the results of engineering? Not really. Continuing the previous metaphor, it adds to the BMW’s appeal and exclusivity making it the automotive equivalent of a well-camouflaged predator coveted by game hunters. Almost poetically, BMW customers fall into two distinct categories: enthusiasts who drive BMW in a state of reciprocal symbiosis, and collectors who capture the BMW as a symbol of status.
But hidden beneath its polished interior, a BMW will always have fire at its core. As desires for fuel-economy and downsized designs forces the straight-six engine to go the way of cassette tapes, BMW has managed to blend its iconic engine architecture with turbocharged four-cylinder powertrains. In addition to these competitive alternatives, BMW continues to refine their I6 builds to mirror the demands of tighter emissions regulations.
And BMW continues to sit atop the arrowhead of innovation, in terms of both sustainable EV vehicles (see the BMWi series) and also autonomous driving. Regardless of where automotive developments bring us, it’s nearly assured that BMW will continue to be as defining a presence in the future as it always been. Looking past the company’s aeronautical roots, you need to look no further back than 1975 to gauge BMW’s impactful presence on today’s driving (as well as tomorrow’s). It is most evidenced by two offerings in particular, that help to spotlight those contributions.
Considered by many Americans to be the ‘original BMW’, it represents the initial release by the Bavarian Motor Works company upon their arrival stateside (some 50+ years into their existence). It is through the 3 Series that BMW established the appeal of their sport-inspired sedan, equipped with a wealth of available technologies. And the overwhelming response to its initial release would fuel further evolution, innovation, and expansion.
Over the years the 3 Series would expand to include more than just a refined 2-door sedan. From a more accommodating 4-door sedan to 2-door coupe and convertible variants. Further evolving to both wagon and hatchback body styles, the 3 Series provided a perfect model for how the elite nature of BMW engineering and styling could prove relatable to drivers from all walks of life.
Six generations later, the BMW 3 Series has forayed confidently into its fifth decade. And it could be argued that it’s never felt more relevant, proving the most accessible of BMW’s offerings, and account for nearly a third of BMW Sales. this makes it no surprise, that it has been revered among the most important performance cars built in recent history.
The 7 Series would follow a different path. Tailored to a heightened sense of exclusivity it would make its debut only two years later, reinforcing the wake of its predecessor. Catering to the tastes and demands of the forward-thinking executive, it included a wealth of technologies that seemed almost excessive when placed into the tapestry of the minimalist 1970’s.
This might be the more powerful testament to BMW’s prophetic design philosophy. Within three years a paradigm shift in global culture would mean a reprioritization of both ideals and priorities. Could BMW have offered a more impressive prediction of 1980’s materialist consumerism?
By today’s standards, the inclusion of a dictaphone (voice recorder, for those younger readers) might be laughable, but it represents those first steps towards the fusion of life/vehicle/office, a line that continues to be blurred by the technologies still in development today. Other features, such as warning lights and onboard computer systems, would go on to inform the standardization of technologies across all classes and segments.
While not visibly strung together, such innovative contributions provide a foundation for every technology that is currently in development. Earlier this year, BMW announced its intention to offer a fully autonomous vehicle as soon as 2021.
Partnerships between automakers and tech giants (as well as competition between those team-ups) are fueling this impressively competitive timeline. BMW’s collaboration with both Intel and Mobile (an Israeli tech firm, specializing in camera technology that is critical to autonomous driving) places the automaker confidently within this race for autonomy.
If looking back tells us anything about looking forward, we can rely on the fact that BMW’s developments will provide a clear indication of what we can expect down the road. While it’s unlikely that autonomous vehicles will be standard for all drivers anytime soon, BMW’s success will mark the start of the clock counting down to the point where it is.
Just another milestone in the story of BMW’s quiet focus on innovation.