The New New Class
Imagine you’re working in the Marketing Department for BMW. Every seven years a new 7 Series comes out and you’re faced with coming up with a creative way to market the new car. After many rounds of brainstorming sessions, the department settles on the tagline for the campaign: Der Neue BMW 7 Series or, in English, The New BMW 7 Series. And so it is every seven years.
A similar process is followed for the 2, 3 and 5 Series. Of course, sometimes a really new Series is introduced, such as the 4 Series a few years ago and the Marketing Department really had to dig deep. That’s when we see slogans such as The All New 4 Series or The First Ever 4 Series. How do they do it?
Imagine the process when a truly revolutionary change occurs. Such is the case with BMW’s realignment to a future with over 50 percent of vehicle sales expected to be electrics. The automotive marketplace is undergoing the most comprehensive change in a century.
Over 90 percent of BMW’s market segments will have a fully electric offering by 2023. This will be accomplished by using vehicle architectures that can accept gas/diesel, electric or hybrid powertrains.
BMW’s production plants are being transformed to accommodate these changes. The combustion engine line in Munich is being relocated to Steyr, Austria and Hams Hall in the UK, to make room in Plant 1 for an enlarged production facility.
The biggest phase of this revolutionary change starts in 2025, with a new generation of high-performance electric drivetrains and batteries, a comprehensive change in the IT and software architecture in the vehicles and an aggressive new approach towards vehicle sustainability across the entire vehicle life.
What to call this new vehicle family? Again, the Marketing Department rose to the challenge. It will be called the Neue Klasse, or in English, the New Class. Really.
If you’re a student of BMW history, you know that the Neue Klasse was the name given to the 1500 sedan that debuted in 1962. This was the beginning of the modern BMW company and the foundation for every BMW automobile since. Of course, there is the other issue, that Mercedes-Benz uses the term “Class” for its cars, such as S-Class, E-Class, et al. Mercedes has done this since the 1920s. While BMW has traditionally used “Series” for its cars.
So why would BMW choose a term that is confusing to those who know the company’s history? A term that is favored by its traditional main competitor? Just a complete lack of any imagination as near as I can tell. A bunch of us could sit down with a few beers and come up with a dozen better terms for this radical new BMW.
But New Class it is. Let’s call it the New New Class. Or, in German, the Neue Neue Klasse.
The Neue Neue Klasse models will provide what BMW CEO Oliver Zipse calls, “A completely novel user experience never before seen in series production vehicles. This will be accomplished by ‘regionalizable technology stacks’ that will be capable of optimally customizing a vehicle’s operating system to suit the varying requirements in each of the world’s major regions and their digital ecosystems, providing continuous upgrades to ensure that the operating system is always fresh.” Thinking back to other BMW digital initiatives, gee, what could go wrong?
Zipse continues, “The digital first approach systematically integrated in the Neue Klasse will enable an increasing proportion of revenues to be generated over the vehicle’s life cycle via Individually configurable and bookable features going forward.” Boldfacing for emphasis is from BMW’s press release. In other words, just buying the car isn’t enough anymore. BMW’s intention is to create a stream of revenue from selling software features, on a subscription basis, to their vehicle customers.
As I write this, I’ve just gotten a preview. The BMW Connect app on my phone that I use for monitoring and controlling my i3 remotely has been deactivated. The app has allowed me to check the battery status, pre-warm or cool the car and a number of other handy features. It has been one of the best things about the car. But it is clearly lacking, in that it was free. In its place, I’ve been offered a confusing subscription service that requires a reset of the car and probably a trip to the dealership. For that I’ll pay $50 per year. BMW wants to be a tech company, which means that they want to create ARR— Annual Recurring Revenue. They’ve gotten pushback on this sort of thing before, and they will again. I don’t know of a better way to piss off a loyal customer. This feels like when I stay at a premium hotel and get a daily wifi charge; I always ask what the daily charge is for electricity and water. I’m getting mad just thinking about it.
I better move on. The Neue Neue Klasse is part of BMW’s push into digitization, electrification and sustainability. The sustainability part refers to greatly reducing resource consumption. Recycled materials will be used more than ever. BMW calls this the “circular economy approach.” Vehicle design will consider the eventual recycling of all materials, leading to the use of more monomaterials, meaning the use of a single, recyclable material in a component.
In the production process, BMW is also reducing its carbon footprint. Across the entire lifecycle of the vehicle, the aim is for a one-third reduction by 2030. BMW aims to be the greenest vehicle manufacturer.
That’s well and good, and I can feel smug driving along in my electric BMW. But I just don’t see any way this reduces the cost of vehicle ownership. Especially since these vehicles are likely to have a useful life of no more than ten years. Welcome to our brave new world.
If you’re wondering about the internal names for the New New Class, we’ve got you covered. The i4 is the G26, meaning it is part of BMW’s conventional, as opposed to i cars development process, despite it being fully electric and having an i car marketing name. It is also a 4 Series despite being a 4-door sedan. BMW’s sedans and wagons use odd numbers while coupes and convertibles use even number model names. Except when the car is a Gran Coupe, which this car is, so it uses the i4 moniker rather than i3. Oh yeah, there already is an i3 that is a completely different sort of car. But, logically, the sedan or wagon version of the i4 should be called the i3, if and when we see such models. There may also be gas, diesel and hybrid versions of the i4, which would presumably get different marketing names. Confused yet? It gets worse.
The iX has an internal project code of i20, making it a product of BMW’s purely electric car development. The only predecessor i cars have been the i3 (i1 internal code) and i8 (i12 internal code). Being named the iX doesn’t give us a hint of where this car stands in BMW’s hierarchy of models. And there already is the iX3, which is purely electric, so we’re not sure where the iX goes in the plan. The first of the iXs to be sold will be the iX xDrive50. That’s right, the x in iX is capitalized and the x in xDrive50 is lower case. The 50 will designate the relative position in the iX hierarchy, but it certainly doesn’t designate displacement, since the car has a battery pack rather than an engine.
Take a pill and get used to it.