BMW Hits 100 and Starts Working on the Next Century

“If, as a designer, you are able to imagine something, there’s a good chance it could one day become reality.”

That’s Adrian van Hooydonk, Head of BMW Group Design.

His imagination, and that of his colleagues, were given full reign, as on March 7, BMW celebrated its centennial.

While the company came into existence as an aircraft engine manufacturer, that knowhow of engines was manifest in a motor vehicle in 1923, when the company started building motorcycles. Its first motorcycle, the R 32, is notable in that while up to then other motorcycles were essentially bicycles to which engines were attached, the R 32 was designed around the engine. Five years later, having purchased an assembly plant in Eisenach, the company started producing cars. And from then on, motorcycles and cars have come to give definition to “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”

Speaking of the efforts that the design team undertook to mark its century in business, van Hooydonk went on to say, “Our objective with the BMW VISION NEXT 100”—as they call the car—“was to develop a future scenario that people would engage with. Technology is going to make significant advances, opening up fantastic new possibilities that will allow us to offer the driver even more assistance of an even more intense driving experience.”

The vehicle is a comparatively compact coupe-cum-sedan that measures just 193 inches long and 54 inches high. It has an exceedingly slippery coefficient of drag: just 0.18.

While there is acknowledgment of forthcoming autonomy in vehicles, BMW is, after all, BMW, and drivers and driving are of importance to the brand.  

So what they’ve done is to come up with two modes for the vehicle. There is the Boost mode, wherein the driver is in charge of the vehicle. This is a fairly straightforward driving experience except that there is what they’re calling the “Companion.” Based on sensors and processors, the Companion learns about driving conditions and the driver. Information about, say, the best line to hold while going into a curve is suggested to the driver. This information is conveyed by “Alive Geometry,” which is an array of more than 800 triangular shapes that are on the instrument panel and on trim panels. These digitally driven shapes are able to configure and reconfigure as needed in order to communicate with the driver (e.g., for the proper line to take, a number of triangles would be organized to show the appropriate orientation). The goal isn’t to allow the driver to drive faster but to make the driver do a better job of driving.

The second mode is the Ease mode. When the driver puts the car into Ease, then the steering wheel and the center console retract and the seats and the door panels merge so that there is a lounge-like seating position for the driver and passengers. Whereas the head-up display—which uses the entire space of the windshield—in the Boost mode provides vehicle parameters and mapping information, in the Ease mode it can provide personal content and entertainment options.

In a speech marking the centenary, Harald Krüger, Chairman of the Board of Management, said, “Nobody knows what the next 100 years will bring. But there is one thing we can be sure of: Future mobility will connect every area of people’s lives. And that’s where we see new opportunities for premium mobility. To develop customized solutions, we need to see mobility within the broader context of the individuals’ lives.”

Krüger went on to explain, “Mobility is going to diversify. In the future, people will want access to the right mobility solution for their needs in any given situation. As a vehicle producer, we need to develop a fuller understanding of mobility in all its facets and address the new points we discover. Connectivity is becoming increasingly mainstream. Our technologies will learn to learn from people. For a better quality of life, the BMW Group is going to turn data into intelligence. Soon, our cars will be digital chauffeurs and personal companions. They will anticipate what we want to do and make our lives easier for us. Transportation will become a personal experience that people will love because it’s precisely the way we want it to be. All of this forms part of our holistic vision of future mobility in 2030 and beyond.

As always, the customer and their personal experience will remain the focus of what we do.”