To BMW: Sell your soul, lose your reputation

Shame on you GM; thank you GM
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I fear for BMW. The people who make “The Ultimate Driving Machine” may be making the ultimate mistake. The worst part of this is that this can be avoided if it looks to its domestic competitor a couple of hours away in Stuttgart. With all the new models planned by BMW in the next five years (at least 3 new model lines, 4 new models for existing lines, and one addition to an existing line,) I think BMW may have not learned Mercedes’ hard lesson that comes with reaching beyond its limits.

Both companies have built a reputation for a quality product, but Mercedes is having to rebuild after tarnishing its spotless image. People would pay a premium for a Mercedes because they are supposed to last forever. This is a carefully crafted image that that came from building strong products. But what allowed them to be so successful was a small product line. Up until the 90s, Mercedes mainly only made three passenger cars: medium sedan, large sedan, and sports car. The engine choices were shared across the whole brand. The top engine for the medium sedan would be the bottom choice for the large sedan; the sports car borrowed its engine from the large sedan; and so forth. So while they did make a quality product (the diesel engine is truly indestructible,) it also didn’t hurt that Mercedes’ technology resources only had to be spread across a handful of engines and parts.

Then in the 90s Mercedes got ambitious. Enter whole new classes like the A, C, G, SLK, and later GL, R, as well as more variations within the class like the CLK. The original models still remain, the E-Class is the medium sedan, the S-Class is the large sedan, and the SL is the sports car. Just now they are just crowded a little more by new siblings on the Mercedes-Benz car lots.

New models are never a bad thing in business, but Mercedes experienced growing pains that put a huge dent in the three-point star. Mercedes was now engineering and producing more individual engines then they ever had in history, and fewer parts were shared across the brand. Quality immediately suffered because of the individual attention all these new cars needed. The German company was introduced to a new term: lemon.

Mercedes has already bounced back. It identified the problem (growing pains) and has gone back to doing what Germans do best, engineering.

My fear is that BMW doesn’t see this lesson. It started out just like Mercedes by mostly making a small, medium and large sedan (today’s 3, 5, and7-Series) as well as coupe models based on these cars. Just like Mercedes, BMW started major expansions in the 90s that led to car like the Z3 and X5, and then later cars like the Z4, X3, Z8 and1-Series.

BMW has done better than Mercedes at basing the new cars very heavily on the existing cars, but that doesn’t meant its eyes are on the big picture. BMW is a company that believes that it needs to have a competitor to just about every passenger car the Mercedes makes. There is no other reason I can think of but spite that would make BMW want to give birth to the pseudo-wagon PAS.

This kind of mentality is bringing on a slew of new cars. While many are based on some existing parts, this still means more new engines and spreading engineering resources over more cars and their parts. I can only hope that BMW knows what it’s doing. It may seem crazy being a little suspect of a company that builds cars that are rarely short of perfect, but people thought the same thing of Mercedes only a few decades ago.

What do you think?
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  (1) posted on 09.22.2008

Let’s hope Porsche does not fall into this trap.

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