• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Munich's beloved car giant - BMW turns 100
Photo: DPA

Munich's beloved car giant - BMW turns 100

DPA/The Local · 7 Mar 2016, 07:53

Published: 07 Mar 2016 07:52 GMT+01:00
Updated: 07 Mar 2016 07:53 GMT+01:00

Birthdays always bring up nostalgia, especially when it's a significant one. It seems like it was only yesterday that the Bavarian Engine Manufacturer (BMW) saw the light of day as it launched production of aeroplane engines, the brand new baby-blue and white propeller icon glistening in the sun.

But over the course of the years the company has outgrown its infant shoes and become a real  adult – in fact, one of the largest companies in Germany, counting 116,000 employees and a turnover of €80 billion.

BMW first made a name for itself as a builder of motorbikes and plane engines, but in 1928 the compact car Dixi 3/15, with a mighty 15 horsepower engine, was the first BMW automobile to grace German roads.

BMW's first-ever car: the Dixi 3/15; Photo: DPA

Shame of forced labour

Then came the Second World War and with it one of the darkest chapters of BMW's history. Especially in the final years of the war, most of the company's output went to the Luftwaffe (German air force). Car and motorcycle production were cut down to a minimum.  

For war production, the manufacturer "employed" 25,000 forced labourers and concentration camp inmates, according to BMW historian Manfred Gunert. One of the most infamous locations was a branch of BMW's Allach site close to the Dachau concentration camp.

A 2011 study commissioned by the Quandt family, which has owned BMW for decades, found that then-owner Günther Quandt was "linked inseparably with the crimes of the Nazis".

As with so many German companies, BMW has gradually been forced to face up to its past, and joined with thousands of other German companies and the government to found the Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation, which pays former forced labourers and supports other charitable causes.

Baroque angel

In the post-war period, BMW moved back to their civilian specialities: cars and motorbikes. Another minuscule automobile came out named Isetta and her significantly more pricy sister BMW 501 –  the "baroque angel".

Unfortunately, the angel nosedived – between tiny and titanic, BMW had lost sight of the middle ground and had no medium-sized cars to offer.

Munich police officers walk past an official BMW 501 in 2013. Photo: DPA

By 1959, the blunder had driven the Munich manufacturer to near-bankruptcy and Daimler stood waiting voraciously ready to absorb it.

However, they hadn't reckoned with Herbert Quandt. Once he was in as an investor, he pushed the company to develop the mid-range BMW 1500, took over the Glas-Car factory in Dingolfing, Lower Bavaria in 1967 and brought the faltering firm back onto its feet.

Under Chairman Eberhard von Kuenheim (1970 – 1993), the winning streak continued, with the company popping out new models and proliferating BMW manufacturing sites around the globe.

A BMW M3 sport version dating back to the late 1980s. Photo: BMW

But BMW wouldn't be BMW if they weren't hard on themselves. Feeling the pressure of competitors Daimler and Volkswagen they wanted to go from premium to mass producer. They made a big bet by buying up British manufacturer Rover – and failed.

Electrifying the future

After 6 years and a mounting loss of several billion Euros the company withdrew from the project. On the bright side: the today widely popular Mini brand rose like a phoenix from the ashes.

The new Mini: not very British, not very Mini, still wildly popular. Photo: BMW

By now, current BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer and his strategy "Number One" launched in 2007 have brought the firm back on track completely. More flexible production methods have led to lower costs and the company has expanded worldwide - including as one of the first German firms to cooperate with China.

Story continues below…

In fact, US-based analysts Bernstein Research found in a recent report that no other European company has performed so consistently as has BMW in recent years. A pat on the back for Reithofer and Co.

As always, the future holds new challenges: because of tight regulations on cars' emissions, and stricter controls following the VW scandal, engineers have to find a way to make their engines more efficient and cleaner.

BMW hopes that its latest electric models, including the flagship i3, will help it bridge the gap between the combustion engines that have carried it this far and the car of the future.

Along with other German manufacturers, the Munich-based giant will have to adapt to a future in which it faces challenges from new car-makers that focus on quality and high-tech, like US-based Tesla.

BMW's pride, the i3: one of the most technologically advanced electronic cars; Photo: DPA

So where does that leave BMW? The answer will have to wait until long after all the champagne has been drunk and the balloons been cleared away from the 100th birthday party.

SEE ALSO: Volkswagen sold more sausages than cars in 2015

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
3 asylum seekers arrested for sexual assaults at music fest
The Schlossgrabenfest in Darmstadt. Photo: DPA

Update: Twenty-six women have so far made complaints of sexual assaults at a musical festival that took place over the weekend in Darmstadt.

Dalai Lama says there are 'too many' refugees in Europe
The Dalai Lama. Photo: DPA

The Dalai Lama said in an interview published Thursday that Europe has accepted "too many" refugees, and that they should eventually return to help rebuild their home countries.

Footballer Özil’s Mecca visit was unpatriotic, say AfD
Mesut Özil. Photo: DPA

When national football star Mesut Özil posted a picture of himself in Mecca on Facebook it received 21,000 ‘likes’. But Germany’s far right party see it is an act of provocation.

Star winger axed from Germany Euros squad
Marco Reus. Photo: DPA

Marco Reus endured more injury heartache with Germany on Tuesday - his 27th birthday - as he was cut from their final Euro 2016 squad, two years after missing the World Cup.

Every third child in Berlin now dependent on welfare
Photo: DPA

Child poverty is on the rise across Germany. But in the national capital and Bremen the situation is particularly severe.

Kraftwerk defeat makes Germany safe for DJs
A Kraftwerk stage show. File photo: DPA

Techno pioneers Kraftwerk have lost a near 20-year court battle over sampling - making the practice A-OK in Germany for the first time ever.

Hanover teen stabbed police officer 'on orders from Isis'
A police officer standing on a platform at Hanover main station. Photo: DPA

A 15-year-old girl who knifed a policewoman at Hanover's main train station in February may have been acting under orders from Isis terrorists, media reported on Tuesday.

Support for Merkel govt dips below 50 percent
Chancellor Angela Merkel (l) and Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (r). Photo: DPA

Germany came in for a political first on Tuesday as a new poll showed combined support for Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government dropped below 50 percent for the first time.

Med rescuers share human cost of refugee crisis
A refugee boat capsizes in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast on May 25th, in an accident in which five people lost their lives. Photo: Marina Militare/Italian Navy/DPA

GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: A photo of a dead migrant baby pulled from the Mediterranean was published by a charity hoping to force European leaders to grant migrants safe passage, after hundreds were presumed to have died at sea last week.

100 years since Germany tried to break UK's grip on the seas
An oil painting of the Battle of Jutland by Claus Bergen, on display in Germany's Naval Memorial in Laboe, Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: DPA

100 years ago, the British and German navies met in the biggest sea battle in history off the Danish coast – one which has become as controversial and hard to make sense of as the First World War itself.

Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
National
The future belongs to these 10 German regions
Society
Pegida enraged by black children on chocolate bars
Health
New father's tragic herpes warning touches 1000s online
National
Bayer's Monsanto takeover would be 'diabolical': environmentalists
Lifestyle
10 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
Politics
MP recites explicit Erdogan bestiality poem on live TV
National
China beats Germany in readiness to help refugees
Hamburg
The headless sex doll that put Lübeck police on high alert
National
Pensioner claims to have found hidden Nazi nukes
Business & Money
Here's why Munich is worth 20 times more than Berlin
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that will stay with you forever
Technology
Church plans to connect with faithful at Wi-Fi 'Godspots'
Technology
Online hate speech can cost users thousands of Euros
Society
Bavarians in rush for non-lethal weapons licenses
Sport
Here's Germany's Mannschaft for Euro 2016
Culture
The Syrian pianist playing his way into Germans' hearts
The parrot who flew fast enough to trigger a speed camera
Technology
New law could let free Wi-Fi bloom across Germany
Politics
Berlin's plans to beef up the German army
5,833
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd