BMW AG (an acronym for Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, or in English, Bavarian Motor Works), is a German company and manufacturer of automobiles and motorcycles. BMW is the world's largest premium carmaker and is the parent company of the BMW MINI and Rolls-Royce car brands, and, formerly, Rover.
The company's taglines in English are "The Ultimate Driving Machine" and "Sheer Driving Pleasure". The original German slogan is "Freude am Fahren", which translates to "Joy in Driving" in English.
BMW's main competitors include Acura, Alfa Romeo, Audi, Cadillac, Infiniti, Jaguar, Lexus, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Porsche.
BMW was founded by Karl Friedrich Rapp in October 1913, originally as an aircraft engine manufacturer, Bayerische Flugzeug-Werke. The Milbertshofen district of Munich location was chosen because it was close to the Gustav Otto Flugmaschinenfabrik site, a German aircraft manufacturer. 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 Austria-Hungary. 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 their first motorcycle engine to be used in a model called the Victoria which was built by a company in Nuremberg.
In 1923 BMW built their 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 saloon and 328 roadster, fast 2.0 L cars, both very advanced for their time.
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 used 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.
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 bu-barrele 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 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 Marcello Gandini. 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.
"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; 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 — even though it was the serious marketing issues that brought Rover down. Even the British press was not particularly sympathetic toward Rover.
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.
Cars manufactured by BMW:
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