This year BMW turns 100, and it’s still roaring like one of its deep-throated V-8 engines. In 2015 it outsold rivals Mercedes-Benz and Audi for the 11th straight year, keeping its crown as the largest luxury-car maker in the world. The newly launched 7 Series, which has reclining rear seats, has been wowing the auto press. What could go wrong?
Well, plenty. If Munich-based BMW wants to stay ahead of the pack, it must figure out how to maneuver through the biggest disruption in transportation since the car displaced the horse-drawn carriage. And that disruption is coming faster than most think. “The next 10 years will bring more change than the last 30,” says Christoph Grote, head of BMW’s advanced technologies group.
We’re not talking about more horsepower or improved handling. The very essence of the automobile is up for grabs. BMW’s honchos believe that new modes of transportation are needed to reduce traffic and boost safety while lowering greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. It’s a major transformation that can be divided into three elements: autonomous driving, electrification, and car sharing. “There is an exciting alternative to the auto industry as we’ve known it over the last 100 years,” says Larry Burns, who once ran R&D for GM GM 1.94% and now advises Google GOOGL 3.48% . “A lot of people will no longer be driving themselves in heavy gas-powered vehicles that they own personally, and the industry is going to have to adapt to that.”