The history of the BMW

Amongst that special breed of prestige cars, BMW seems to hold a special place. Own one and you may have marked yourself out as a discerning motorist with an eye for excellence in automotive engineering or, more broadly, as someone who has made it, financially and socially.

Indeed, these are the two main findings of an academic study conducted by the University of Worcester on BMW’s marketing strategy. This is pitched towards two distinct types of consumer:

  • individuals who look for innovation in the car they buy, but are essentially “non-materialistic”; and
  • those who view the purchase of a BMW as an expression of their success and wealth.

Either way, of course, you still need the financial wherewithal to purchase a prestige car such as this and the funds are readily available through various forms of BMW car finance – whether that is Personal Contract Purchase (PCP), hire purchase, or lease purchase.

The BMW brand

So, let’s take a closer look at how the BMW brand has developed to appeal to two apparently disparate types of consumer – those with an appreciation for excellence in motor engineering and those wanting to make a statement about their general success and status in life.

A long history is important in establishing the pedigree of a prestige marque – and, by tracing its roots back as far as 1916, the Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) has just that pedigree, together with the distinctive BMW emblem in the blue and white colours of the German State of Bavaria.

Although the company was making motor engines, its first production vehicle was, in fact, a motorcycle, the R32 in 1923.

BMW started making motor cars in 1928, but these relatively small vehicles were made under licence from the British Austin Motor Company until the factory began production of its own designs in 1932.

The following year, BMW also started making aircraft and aero-engines, contributing significantly to the Luftwaffe’s fleet throughout the Second World War, during which time the company concentrated solely on aircraft production.

Because of its role in armament manufacture during the war years, BMW plants were dismantled immediately afterwards, and the company did not effectively regain control of its means of production until 1955.

Nevertheless, the launch of its first post-war car – the six-cylinder BMW501 – in 1952 set the tone for a car manufacturer intent on producing high-quality, luxury and excitingly engineered vehicles, even if commercial success was slow in reflecting the innovations.

The Frankfurt Motor Show in 1961 proved a milestone in establishing BMW as the shape of things to come in the world of sporty, four-door, middle-class motoring in the guise of the BMW1500.

In 1972, with its successes throughout Europe from its German factories, BMW opened its first foreign manufacture and assembly plant in South Africa. In the same year, the company also entered the field of motorsports, winning a number of trophies and inspiring a new generation of sporty road vehicles.

To ensure the continuation of creative automotive innovation BMW set up its own “think tank”, BMW Technik, as a school and proving ground for engineers, designers, and technicians – with one of its first production successes in the Z1 Roadster, launched in 1988. The concept of its own Research and Innovation Centre was developed still further with the opening of an institution of that name in Munich in 1990 – employing some 7,000 specialists in motor engineering and design.

For a period in the late 1990s, BMW had also acquired the British Rover group – and the Land Rover, MG, Triumph and Mini marques along with it. By 2000, however, the exercise had proved unsuccessful, the group sold off and only the Mini brand retained. By 2002, however, BMW acquired all rights to and control of the Rolls Royce Motor Company, with its headquarters in Goodwood, in the south of England.


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