• 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
Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
File photo: DPA

When a man swimming naked in a Bavarian lake felt a strange pain in his nether regions, he looked up to see a fisherman on the shore. "Don’t pull!" he shouted.

Study finds rival Rhineland beers 'actually taste the same'
Left: Altbier. Right: Kölsch. Or can you even tell? Photos: DPA.

Cologne and Düsseldorf have a long established rivalry, not least over who has the better home brew. So the results of a new study might be more than they can swallow.

Eastern Europe pushes Germany for joint EU army
Angela Merkel (l), Beata Szydlo and Victor Orban. Photo: DPA

Eastern EU countries on Friday pushed for the bloc to create a joint army as they met with Germany for talks on sketching Europe's post-Brexit future.

Merkel’s party mate wants to get rid of all Karl Marx streets
Karl Marx and one of the roadways in Berlin named for him. Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Nicor

Hundreds of streets are named after the founder of communism, but this conservative politician wants to give Marx the boot.

State elections
6 reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
Photo: DPA

With state elections around the corner, The Local looks at the poor side of Germany's "poor but sexy" capital city.

Upstarts RB Leipzig plan to go right to top of Bundesliga
RB Leipzig players celebrate scoring against Dynamo Dresden. Photo: DPA

RB Leipzig make their Bundesliga debut on Sunday, but the East German outfit, sponsored by energy drinks manufacturer Red Bull, are already far from popular in Germany's top-flight.

Poland criticizes Germany’s 'self-serving' foreign policy
Witold Waszczykowski. Photo: DPA

The Polish foreign minister has said that Germany all too often follows its own interests at the expense of its partners, as Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to visit Warsaw.

Vast majority of Germans in favour of burqa ban: poll
Women wearing niqab veils in Saudi Arabia. Photo: DPA.

A survey found that the vast majority of respondents were in favour of Germany passing a ban on the full-body veil sometimes worn by Muslim women.

Czech police detain driver for harassing Merkel's motorcade
Angela Merkel. File photo: DPA

Czech police arrested a man on Thursday for attempting to drive into the motorcade of visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Prague, they said.

Teacher convicted for holding kids back after class
Photo: DPA

A music teacher from North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) has been found guilty of "holding people against their will" after he made some naughty stay kids back after class.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
What's on in Germany: events for August 2016
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
8,614
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd