Editor's note: This story is part of a special section in the March 7 edition of Automotive News marking the 100th anniversary of BMW AG.
When BMW began competing against perennial archrival Daimler a hundred years ago, the company wasn't building luxury cars but engines that powered World War I propeller planes. It was only in 1960, when the company was on the verge of collapse, that BMW was forced to sell its core airplane engine business to survive.
As the company prepares to mark its 100-year anniversary this month with a celebration in Munich's Olympiahalle, it finds itself entering a disruptive digital age commonly called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. A resurgent Mercedes-Benz, slowing China car sales and rising competition from tech juggernauts Google and Apple are just some of the challenges it faces.
Under former CEO Norbert Reithofer, BMW set forth a clearly defined mission statement to be the world's leading premium automaker by 2020. And for the past 10 years, it succeeded, thanks in part to its crushing dominance of the compact segment symbolized by the 3-series sedan.
Yet BMW already is changing as it prepares for a time when it is no longer on top. "Volume is not everything," said Reithofer, now BMW chairman, in a provocative statement last March.
Indeed, many analysts believe Mercedes, currently at the peak of its product cycle, could pass BMW in its anniversary year as the world's best-selling premium brand. The auto industry is set to change more in the next five to 10 years than the last 50, predicted General Motors CEO Mary Barra at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
If so, that means new BMW boss Harald Krueger will have a lot on his plate since his tenure could very well extend until 2025, when the still-youthful CEO approaches the company's maximum age of 60 for executives.
"I don't envy Krueger, to be honest. Obviously, he's filling some big shoes," said Stuart Pearson, Exane BNP Paribas auto analyst. "BMW is a company that has been executing perfectly; it's strategically on the right track, so how do you make your mark as that guy? I think it could be very difficult for him."