In 2014, Frank Van Meel, former boss of Audi’s Quattro GmbH performance division, took the helm of BMW’s famous M Division. Recently, Van Meel spoke with Marc Noordeloos of OEM Magazine about the future of the M Division and what sort of changes are in store.
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The biggest question, or maybe even fear, that BMW enthusiasts had when Van Meel took over, was that he might bring with him the all-wheel drive technology he’s used to at Audi. However, rest assured that Van Meel has BMW M’s heritage at heart and would only spring for all-wheel drive if it was rear-wheel drive biased and still felt like a proper M car.
“Our philosophy is to make performance cars that are very agile, perform very well on race tracks and have a high degree of precision,” To which he continued to say “For that, rear-wheel drive is important. That is also what has made BMW M so successful over the past 40 years and built the M image. That is something that will continue in the future and we will even enhance those properties. That is our main differentiator from the other high-performance cars in the segment, especially German ones – the driving feel.”
So it seems as if rear-wheel drive is the main focus for the foreseeable future. But when asked about the possible addition of all-wheel drive to future M cars, Van Meel said “If we were to make a four-wheel-drive car, it would have a rear-wheel drive feel but with added traction. It would need to drive like an M car. If it was possible to get those vehicle dynamics with four-wheel drive, then it would be suitable for us.” So even if the M Division were to create an all-wheel drive car, say the next M5, rest assured that it won’t be some understeering Audi, it will still be a proper M car. He also goes on to say that front-wheel drive in an M car isn’t even a possibility, claiming that the front wheels cannot handle the level of power and performance M cars must have.
Van Meel also addressed some concerns on the growing ‘softness’ of some of BMW’s latest M models. Many enthusiasts are upset over the augmented engine noise, turbocharging and DCT gearboxes and think that M is going soft on us. To the turbocharging complaint, Van Meel had this to say “Regarding emissions and performance, turbocharging is the way to go, especially if you look toward downsizing,” and continued by saying “Lighter engines with more performance – that’s what we want. We want to have the best power-to-weight ratio, so there is no way around turbocharged engines.” So while many are upset about the recent turbocharging of the world’s beloved M3, it’s clear that in this day and age, turbocharging is necessary to create performance as well as comply to economy and emissions restrictions.
He also goes on to say that the manual transmission, though in demand emotionally by many enthusiasts, the market for them is falling dramatically. Though he does say that BMW will continue to produce manual transmission M cars as long as possible.
There are rumors, as of late, about the hybridization of a future M car, to which Van Meel says “The BMW i team uses the carbon fiber technology from BMW M. And of course, we are looking into what BMW i does regarding drivetrain technology, vehicle dynamics control systems and enhanced lightweight technology. Without trying to make an ‘M i’ model, maybe there could be a BMW M inspired by BMW i, or a BMW i inspired by BMW M.” Though he does claim that BMW’s M Division is more inspired by the track than by technology and that, while possible, he doesn’t think combining the two divisions would work. Van Meel also squashed the idea of a diesel M car, as there simply wouldn’t be a large enough market for it and also claimed a possibility of a more hardcore version of an M car, a la AMG Black Series. Exciting.
All in all, the worry about Van Meel turning BMW M into Audi should be gone. He seems like he is very in touch with the BMW M Division and its rich history. He just seems like the right man to guide BMW’s beloved M Division into a promising future.