As of the launch of BMW i in 2011, BMW has made a fairly significant commitment to being at the forefront of the auto industry in terms of connectivity and electrification. Year after year, we’re seeing more hybrid models being launched from the driver-centric brand, and though their M performance division is growing at an equally rampant pace, the demand for more efficient plug-in vehicle options has clearly become a priority. Given this split-personality of sorts, rather than talking with a single member of BMW Canada’s executive team we opted to meet with both Kevin Marcotte, National Manager of BMW i, as well as Matthew Wilson, National Manager of BMW to gain a little insight as to the direction of the brand, as well as their outlook on the industry as a whole.
When you look at the auto industry holistically, what are you guys seeing in terms of direction?
MW: You can hear it echo from one booth to another throughout the auto show here, it’s quite clear that electrification is the obvious focus at just about every brand. In our case, we’re up to 9 plug-in models thus far, and it’s looking like in the next 5-10 years the vast majority of consumers will largely be looking for plug-in offerings. That said, BMW is still a performance driven brand—the ultimate driving machine—so we need to remain conscientious of this, find ways to integrate these electrified systems into vehicles that still excite people with both their thoughtful design and dynamic performance.
KM: On the other side of the spectrum, obviously autonomy and self-driving is still at the forefront of technological advancement in the auto industry, and will continue to be a talking point in the coming years. At BMW i, we’re anticipating unveiling i-Next in 2021, which will be our first significant push into the consumer-ready autonomous driving space.
On the autonomous side of things, how do you think this new development in transportation is going to affect the luxury segment?
KM: The luxury segment has always been the frontrunner when it comes to developing new technology, so I thing even though there’s that perspective of automated cars becoming utilitarian people-movers, it will also be a serious boost to the luxury market. We also don’t doubt that there will be a significant clientele that will want the kinds of comforts they’ve become accustomed to from luxury cars regardless of who’s driving.
MW: For BMW it’s also a bit of a different animal on account of being such a driver-centric brand. We think autonomous driving will provide us with interesting opportunities to grow as a brand, but it’s also altering the definition of driving experience, which is a core part of our DNA.
Are you finding the moves by Big Tech to be impacting how BMW is moving ahead with in-car technology?
MW: In some ways, yes. The demands of customers have continued to evolve in terms of connectivity, which has led us to continue to advance our iDrive platform year-over-year. We still stand by our statement that we offer the best in-car infotainment platform on the market, in part due to the fact that we’ve maintained our focus of developing these systems in-house. We were the first to offer a wireless connection to Apple Car Play, and we’re the first auto manufacturer to integrate gesture control into our infotainment systems.
Ok, on to the fun stuff… Who’s driving what these days?
KM: I’m in the 530e i-Performance hybrid right now. I’ve got enough range to get to and from work fully electric, and after running the math it’s costing me $0.80 a night to charge the car up. It’s still a fun drive, but I’m loving the efficiency side of things.
MW: I’m on the complete other end of the 5-series spectrum, surprise, surprise. Right now I have an M550i in Frozen Black. It’s got all the get-up-and-go I could possibly want, it handles great, and depending on how light or heavy my foot is, its fuel efficiency is still plenty respectable.
And what isn’t in the garage right now that you’d love to get your hands on?
KM: I think I’d go back to a first-generation M-Coupe. I’ve had the pleasure of driving one a number of times throughout the years, and they’re just a fun little performance car with a great (though pretty unique) look to them.
MW: I’d have to say the new M4 CS. It’s a funny one, because on paper the differences between the CS and the M4 with a Competition pack aren’t that significant, but having driven them both, there’s just something about the CS that’s calling to me. That and it’s not quite as hardcore as the M4 GTS, which is fantastic on the track, but can be a bit much to drive if you’re going to be behind the wheel for 3 or 4 hours.