"BMW is the proud designer of the two-man Olympic bobsled," the company boasts in a TV commercial.
BMW will be even prouder if one of the six bobsleds it developed for the U.S. Olympic team wins a gold medal at this month's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, said Trudy Hardy, vice president of marketing for BMW of North America.
The U.S. men's two-man bobsled team hasn't won a gold medal in 78 years; U.S. women last won gold in 2002, the first year women competed.
The German luxury brand is the official mobility partner of the U.S. Olympic Committee, a sponsor-ship arrangement that includes Olympic-themed TV advertising, digital media promotions and road tests at dealerships.
The Olympics deal is BMW's biggest marketing investment this year, Hardy said. As part of its sponsorship, BMW also applied its technology and knowledge of vehicular aerodynamics to redesign the bobsleds used by the U.S. men's and women's teams.
"The greatest contribution that we make by sponsoring the United States Olympic Committee is that we thread it through all aspects of our business," Hardy said.
What is a German-owned company doing supporting U.S. teams? "Every single country other than the U.S. subsidizes its teams," Hardy said. "The U.S. Olympic Committee depends on corporate sponsorships and private donations." And given BMW's role as a leading exporter of U.S.-built vehicles, BMW felt comfortable with the arrangement, Hardy said.
Besides, she said, there is intense competition among BMW's national sales arms, and "each is looking for success."
BMW in Germany sponsors the German bobsled team, but "it is a slightly different relationship" with some technical support, Hardy said.
BMW is coming off a major sponsorship of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London that it says helped boost brand awareness and led to a 54 percent increase in Web traffic for BMW of North America; half of the added traffic was from first-time visitors, Hardy said.
"It does show that it can give us a new audience and bring new people into the brand who hadn't considered us," she said.
The sled took two years to develop, under the leadership of Michael Scully, creative director at BMW Group Designworks USA, in Newbury Park, Calif. Scully is a former snowboard competitor and race car driver. He also designed race cars for BMW.
Scully altered the shape of the traditional bobsled, made it smaller and used lightweight carbon fiber, the same material that forms the passenger cell of the BMW i3 electric car. Because the sled is so light, BMW had to add about 100 pounds of lead so it would meet Olympic requirements.
Working with the bobsled team's athletes and coaches, BMW ultimately made six sleds -- three each for the women's and men's teams. It also produced a 30-minute documentary about the effort called "Driving on Ice" that aired on NBC in early January. BMW paid for the air time.
Two TV commercials have aired and more will run during the Olympics, which end Feb. 23. Hardy wouldn't give more details.
BMW also will contribute up to $10, for a maximum donation of $200,000, to Team USA for each test drive taken at a dealership in January and February.