100 years of BMW
Since its founding 100 years ago, BMW has gone from being a mid-sized manufacturer of airplane engines to one of the world’s most iconic automakers. To mark its big anniversary, DW presents some important milestones.
The white-blue logo that adorns the hood of every vehicle that rolls off BMW’s production line is a symbol of the company's beginnings 100 years ago. On March 7, 1916, the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Bavarian Airplane Works) were founded. Later, it was renamed Bayerische Motorenwerke (Bavarian Motor Works), but the propellor logo stayed.
In the fall of 1923, BMW introduced its first motorcycle, the R 32. The bike's much-celebrated unveiling at the Berlin Motor Show was followed by robust sales and superb performance on the racetrack. Those successes proved BMW could do more than build excellent airplane engines. To date, the combination of a two-cylinder boxer motor and a shaft drive is pivotal to the design of BMW motorcycles.
In 1928, BMW had the chance to acquire a vehicle factory in Eisenach. The company took over the production of a locally manufactured car, under license from England, and began manufacturing its own units. In 1932, the first self-made 303s were born. They were the first cars to have kidney-shaped grills, now a trademark design.
BMW first began as a defense contractor. In the First and Second World Wars, it mostly produced engines for German military aircraft. In the throes of WWII, the company exploited the work of about 25,000 forced laborers and concentration camp inmates, according to BMW historian Manfred Grunert. The company has since owned up to its dark past and paid redresses.
After the war ended in 1945, BMW lost its production facility in Soviet-controlled Eisenach. In Munich, where until then the automaker had never produced a single vehicle, BMW began assembling motorcycles. It also introduced a new model, the 501, which earned itself the nickname "baroque angel" due to its curved body shape.
Producing larger vehicles was so costly for BMW that for every model it sold, it took a loss of around 4,000 German marks. Even the compact car Isetta, licensed from the Italian car company Iso Rivolta, was unable to escape the fallout from the rapidly deteriorating financial crisis.
In 1959, BMW was facing bankruptcy and a takeover from Daimler. At the last minute, the industrialist Herbert Quandt stepped in and began a company-wide restructuring, saving the firm. His heirs, siblings Stefan Quandt and Susanne Klatten (seen here with their late mother in 2015), together hold 47 percent of BMW shares - a stake estimated to be worth over 30 billion euros ($33.1 billion).
In 1961, the company finally introduced a middle-class model: the completely redesigned BMW 1500. After some trial and error, the 1500 was replaced by the 1600, 1800 and 2000. It was a huge success. BMW's resurgence finally seemed permanent after the company rolled out its two-door "Null-Zwei," or "zero two," models: the 1602, 1802, 2002 and the 2002ti/tii.
All good things come in threes
BMW's best-selling model is part of its 3 Series, which it launched in 1975. Six years later, the millionth unit had already rolled off the production line. By 2012, the automaker was on the sixth generation of this popular series. The seventh generation is planned for 2018. Nearly every fourth vehicle that BMW produces belongs to the 3 Series. It is the bread and butter of the auto concern.
In 1973, BMW inaugurated its new company headquarters, a building that is affectionately referred to as the "four cylinders." Today, the structure is a landmark in the Bavarian capital, Munich. In the '70s and '80s, BMW became one of the fastest growing automakers in the world. Today, the firm has 25 production facilities spread across 14 countries and employs upwards of 100,000 people.
To further drive its expansion, BMW bought Britain's Rover Group in 1994 - and offloaded it at a loss six years later. The Mini brand was the only piece of that ill-fated deal to remain a part of BMW's portfolio, and it has been experiencing a revival since 2001. Since 2003, BMW has also been assembling luxury Rolls-Royce automobiles in its factories.
In the electric car sector, BMW is ahead of the game with its i3 and carbon fiber bodies. Big cities such as Beijing, Oslo and London are making life more difficult for drivers of cars with traditional combustion engines. Diesel motors have also increasingly been under suspicion ever since the VW emission scandal. But this could play into BMW's hands as the company widens its fleet of e-models.