Digital Trends interviews Frank van Meel, CEO of BMW M, on tech and future

BMW M, News | January 25th, 2017 by 7
franciscus van meel bmw 2 750x500

It’s no secret that BMW’s M Division is going through and interesting change at the moment. With manual transmissions being phased out and electrification being …

It’s no secret that BMW’s M Division is going through and interesting change at the moment. With manual transmissions being phased out and electrification being implemented throughout the entire automotive industry, BMW M has to balance staying relevant with sticking to its core values. So BMW M CEO Frank Van Meel has a difficult job to do.

But he recently sat down with Digital Trends at the Detroit Auto Show to talk about technology, electrification and the future of BMW M. But first, as it was the big news, DT asked him about the BMW M550i and how M Performance models have their place in the lineup. “Obviously in the past, the gap between the series-production cars and the pure M vehicles was quite big, and there was a huge demand from customers for improved vehicle dynamics, but at the same time with a very good balance toward uncompromised everyday usability.”

2018 BMW M550i xDrive M Performance22 750x500

BMW M550i xDrive

And that’s really what it comes down to — customer demand. There are countless BMW fans who hate BMW M Performance models, as they feel they’re diluting the M brand. However, if there’s a high customer demand for something with a bit of M injected into it while still being comfortable, why would BMW not make that?

But BMW M will still maintain its exclusivity, as van Meel claims there won’t be an M variant of every BMW model, though it’s damn close at the moment.

Despite all of the new technology, increase in size and luxury, van Meel still maintains that BMW M hasn’t forgotten its motorsport beginnings. “It’s our heritage, it’s where we came from, where we started. For us that is pre-requisite number one.”

Of course, the topic of manual transmissions came up during the interview, as it always does nowadays. While us enthusiasts love manuals, customer demand for them is at an all time low and it just doesn’t make much sense for them in certain cars anymore. Van Meel claims that there are two ways to look at the manual transmission. “One is the engineering standpoint, which says it doesn’t really make sense. Even though it is lighter, it is slower, and the automated gearboxes have a better fuel consumption.” This we already knew. Despite how much fun they are, manual gearboxes can’t come close to shifting as fast as a modern auto or dual-clutch.

BMW M2 M Performance Parts 39 750x563

“On the other hand, there’s this emotional thing. We still have a relevant amount of people that are wanting to drive a manual” said van Meel. However, the demand isn’t as large as we thought, especially for the BMW M2. “On the M2 we have a worldwide take rate for manual transmissions of about 20 percent, which is a lot.”. van Meel says that’s a lot but 20 percent seems awfully low for a car that’s supposed to bring back the glory days of BMW M.

The other big question that everyone’s been asking van Meel and BMW M is whether or not the famous motorsport brand will ever make the switch to electrification. “In the end, all cars will be electric, including the M vehicles. The question is only when that is going to happen.” he said. At the moment, batteries and electric motors are still too heavy and compromised for motorsport-inspired driving. “As soon as it is possible to make a real M following the M philosophy—and it’s not about technology, it’s more about philosophy—to make that possible with electrified drivetrains, of course that is an option for M.”

[Source: Digital Trends]

7 responses to “Digital Trends interviews Frank van Meel, CEO of BMW M, on tech and future”

  1. Pictor says:

    Let’s face it. These days, BMW M stands for ///Marketing.

    Yes customers want sportiness infused with comfort. That used to be the attraction to cars with the iS moniker. Or stealthy cars like the E39 540i 6-Speed. Recently most of what’s coming out of M is stickers, carbon fiber mirror caps, pedals or parts that do nothing for performance but ‘appear’ to be performance oriented. There are a few examples of performance parts but they are few and far between (limited LSDs, exhaust, etc.) and they are generally dealer installed.

    Transmissions, MT offer less fuel efficiency because AT’s have more gears. BMW has not offered a 7 speed MT and doesn’t offer MT’s for most of it’s lineup anymore so people don’t buy them. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy. M cars are also offered in lines that have no business being an M car (X5, X6, etc.) and worse, they get standard AT’s. DCT isn’t an option in most cars either. If you want a DCT but not an M car then you have to go to the German brand from Stuttgart.

    M cars are also offered without S motors. This is not new as the US received several M cars with motors that were closer to the M52 non-S engine in the 90’s. However, the arguably best M car today comes with an N55B30 engine! M cars should have S motors and not N55 or B58 variants. For those engines, the car should be an iS or M-Technic as to not dilute the M brand.

    What you can consistently get from //M these days is marketing and branding.

    • guest says:

      If you’re no longer happy with M (you don’t get to define it, by the way, and the E39 540i you cite was NOT M), maybe it’s time to try their OTHER M, Motorrad are also enjoying record sales. This company has always been about marketing and branding, it’s in their name!

      • Pictor says:

        I realize the E39 540i was not M. I owned one. My point is that it was stealthy but embodied the sporty yet comfortable car that BMW seems to be offering in the pseudo M cars like the “M Performance” models such as the M550i or M240i which are also not M cars. BTW- I’ll probably buy an M550i. It’s not that I don’t like the cars but rather I don’t like the in-your-face marketing something that it’s not. I’ll probably de-badge mine.

    • Guillaume Perret says:

      do you really want to use a 7 speed MT ?
      I was already tired of using the paddle shift on my 7 speed Stronic …

      • Pictor says:

        Paddle shift on a SAT transmission is as pointless as carbon fiber rear view mirror caps. They look cool and may make you feel cool but it doesn’t really serve a purpose. Yes, I have owned a car with SAT. What I would like to see is either a 7MT like what Porsche offers on the 911 or give us DCT in the non-M cars.

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