Why BMW is 'no longer just a car company'

Paul McVeigh is managing editor at Automotive News Europe.Paul McVeigh is managing editor at Automotive News Europe.
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There was further evidence of what might turn out to be a major strategic shift in the way some automakers do business earlier this week when a top BMW executive said the carmaker "is no longer just an auto company."

The words were spoken by Ian Robertson, the company's sales and marketing chief, at the launch of BMW's DriveNow car-sharing service, which aims to win 1 million customers by 2020.

BMW sees that in large cities even fewer people -- especially those in the iPod generation -- want the hassle and cost of car ownership. The car is no longer a status symbol to many people. With DriveNow, BMW joins Daimler's Car2Go and Peugeot's Mu service in launching a short-term rental program that gives people worry-free access to a car when they need one.

Increasingly, automakers are looking for new ways to make money besides building and selling cars as forecasters and many executives predict that dwindling car ownership in cities threatens the industry. By 2025, some 60 percent of the world's population will live in cities, Frost & Sullivan says. Cars will be increasingly less welcome in these cities due to congestion, pollution and space concerns.

BMW aims to stay ahead of the game by becoming a "mobility solutions provider" offering people a flexible way to enjoy the freedom of movement that driving a car gives. Car-sharing is a small but key part of the changing BMW and "we have many more ideas, wait and see," Robertson told me at the launch of DriveNow.

Currently, many car companies are enjoying good times because of booming demand in China. But China has the world's biggest population and many of the world's biggest cities. Some experts already say that young people in the country's crowded cities will soon lose their enthusiasm for owning a car.

We'll see whether car-sharing is the way forward or a dead end. Regardless, it's nice to see automakers keeping up with this trend rather than playing catch-up like they are with the green movement and in-car Internet connectivity.

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