Friday was the first day on the trip that I felt in my element because it was all about brand and sustainability — two things I know about way more than German Federalism!
We started the day with a VIP tour of the BMW München plant at BMW Welt. Amazing! We went from the steel stamping facility all the way through to the final tests. The robotic automation floor for the frame assembly looked like a crowded, choreographed dance floor. Much of the component assembly is done by a workforce of 59% Germans. The remainder is made up of over 40 different nationalities. The tour path itself was a beautiful, architecturally lit, stainless steel sheet catwalk. No cameras allowed.
Munich produces approximately 207,500 cars per year and because of their variable data process only 1.5 cars are identical. Perhaps another way to say it: they are a 99+% custom array manufacturer as each car is made to order. As the parts approach the robot with an RFID tag the command is sent to the machine to tell it what to do. This means that you can manufacture sedans, convertibles and station wagons all in the same line, made as requested without the need for separate assembly lines..
After the tour we were given a real treat and taken through the BMW Brand Academy, normally reserved for BMW employees and dealers. It's a dry understatement that BMW takes brand seriously. The Brand Academy is designed to teach BMW stakeholders about brands and how they take root in culture. It's made up of several rooms and designed much like a museum exhibition that includes rooms dedicated to the brand values of BMW, MINI and Rolls Royce. (They are sensitive about how much is shared so I'll have to skip details.) Teams are guided through multiple workshops so that they understand the core values of the brands, which are ultimately the core values of BMW. This is of course dear to my heart — it's what we recommend to our clients! But I confess I have never seen such an exemplary execution. I asked Hildegaard Wortmann how she pulled it off. (Hildegaard managed all global communications for MINI for the last six years and just took over the X and Z series.) She chuckled and simply said, "it took a lot of convincing." Another dry German understatement on a significant accomplishment.
After a tour of the Academy we were audience to three presentations on sustainability, future trends and the new X1 to be launched in Europe this month.
Sustainability is top of mind at BMW. In the last two years they have decreased the fuel consumption of their entire offer by 30%. Their stated goal is to become a carbon neutral company out of both conviction and self interest. They didn't start down this path on their own though. The EU policies forced the beginning of their journey. Today they see it as a market opportunity and consider excellence the only option.
One of the current experiments is the MINI E, a fleet of 600 electric MINI Coopers being leased in LA, NYC and New Jersey. They are using these cars to teach them about the driving patterns in metro areas and the limitations of current technology. At IDEO we call the Business in Beta, starting small to win big.
We also got the low down on the new crossover vehicle, the X1. It's the station wagon cousin of the X5 and unfortunately it's not available in the U.S. BMW is waiting to see how the economy shifts before launching the product in America. Nearly half of their sales are in Europe followed by a nearly even split between China and the U.S. Then there is Saudi Arabia and India. Basically countries with wealth.
I have a lot more detail in my notebook and can't wait to talk to you about it. Here was my favorite quote of the day: "You don't buy a BMW because it's better quality than Lexus. You buy it because your stomach tells you to buy it, or because your bum tells you to buy it." Obviously the Brand Academy has graduates.