Inside a bright auditorium at an abandoned airfield near Munich, rows of men and women gaze at images flashing by on a giant screen: a Mercedes sedan; Porsche and Jaguar SUVs; the face of Elon Musk. “We’re in the midst of an electric assault,” the presenter intones as the Tesla Inc. chief’s photo pops up. “This must be taken very seriously.”
The audience is composed of BMW AG employees flown in for a combination pep rally/horror film intended to make them afraid—very afraid—about the future of the industry. The takeaway: The market is shifting in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago, and BMW must adapt. The subtext is a recognition that the company has gone from leader to laggard. For years, it set the benchmark in luxury, but it needs to hit the accelerator to fend off resurgent rivals such as Mercedes-Benz and new competitors like Tesla. “BMW is falling behind in electrics,” says Ingo Speich, a fund manager at Union Investment, which owns almost 1 percent of the company.