Courtesy of our friend Steve over at SkiddMark, we have a fascinating interview with the BMW M boss, Dr. Kay Segler.
With car makers under pressure from all directions – environmental, economic and safety – where do you take one of the most successful automotive brands of the last 25 years when, all of a sudden it just does not seem to fit with the status quo?
Refine and improve, or break it all down and start again?
This is Dr Kay Segler’s challenge, since taking on the role of President of BMW M GmbH earlier this year. His life will not be simple as he contends with the expectations of the many M-car traditionalists who fear the future means massive 4×4s, turbocharging and automatic transmissions.
I first met him 10 days before the Frankfurt Motor Show at a BMW Driver Training event at the Nordschleife – 2 days of intense circuit training in DCT equipped M3s. And he wasn’t just visiting for the evening social, he was there as a pupil. An hour or so after my initial interview with him at the Frankfurt show, our paths crossed again, when I was photographing some of the M-cars which formed part of the (rather small) BMW M-presence in the IAA exhibition hall.
He grabbed me by the arm and led me over to a limited edition (of 100) M6 Competition Edition, telling me that he had been evaluating the new semi-matt silver grey paint finish, driving the car on road to see how it looked when dirty.
He clearly loves it, stroking the front wing of the car, saying, “You must be careful not to polish it, of course…”.
Despite Segler’s obvious enthusiasm, the overall health of M division has been a cause for concern to many enthusiasts.
This summer’s launch of the X5 M/X6 M has been met by many with a grudging acceptance of their capability, but disbelief that these – how should we put it…..rather large and heavy vehicles – could be considered true M-cars?
What has happened to the carefully refined-over-many-years philosophy of rear-wheel drive, high revving naturally aspirated engines and driver involvement?
This year’s Frankfurt Motor show demonstrated the car industry’s current obsession with fuel efficiency and environmentally-friendly motoring. All of the volume manufacturers have gone into hyperdrive, or perhaps ecodrive, in their efforts to demonstrate their good citizenship.
BMW’s own exhibition hall showcased their Efficient Dynamics concept admirably with a procession of whiter than white, eco-logoed cars dominating the visitor experience, as they circulated the hall on a banked track. M-cars were present, but in very limited numbers, parked, almost tucked away in a corner, as if their presence was a touch embarrassing in amongst all the planet saving. The display was dominated by Mini, and even Rolls Royce had more floor space, and a more prominent position.
Segler’s vision for the M-brand is “Childhood automotive dreams realised” which sounds good, but what will this mean in practice? The cars themselves are getting more complex, heavy and expensive, so the entry point becomes higher and harder to attain for many people. Those who do have the funds have found the E9x M3 to be less engaging initially than its predecessor(the E46 M3), and so are not necessarily getting their chequebooks out on the strength of a 20 minute test drive. It has become – at first acquaintance anyway – a supremely good GT, rather than an overtly sporting car.
Segler agrees but counters this with “The M button”, which he sees as a key differentiator over BMW’s competitors, with its capability to alter so many of the car’s characteristics – throttle sensitivity, steering weight, suspension damping and traction control thresholds – in an instant, changing the relaxing GT into something much more responsive and almost hard-core. The best of both worlds available at the touch of a button. This, he believes, positions the M3 uniquely against its competition.
“How would you feel after driving from Munich to Frankfurt in a 911? Tired and stressed” says Segler, “not so in the M3, which is relaxing when you need it to be, yet also entertains when you want to have fun”.
This begs a difficult question. What’s the M3’s true competition? The 911? Maybe, but Segler counters that the 911 doesn’t deliver the relaxation of the M3 when it’s in GT mode.
It‘s not just the noise levels either he argues, but the quality of the noise and this is something that BMW spends much time and effort optimising. Anyway, the 911 is far less versatile in terms of accommodation and usability, something which Segler maintains as a core virtue of the dual-personality M-car.
In the USA, he identifies the M3’s principal competitor as the Corvette. Mercedes C63? Lexus ISF? Nothing volunteered here by Segler.
If you learn more about BMW M’s future plans, whether an M1 is in works, M3 GT4, turbocharged M models, head over to SkiddMark and read the entire article.
Steve, thanks again for the exclusivity on this!