BMW's Next CEO: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
With Oliver Zipse confirmed as BMW’s new chief executive, practically everyone theorized on how he was going to shake up the strategy established under former-CEO Harald Krüger — which revolved around gradually introducing more EVs via a highly flexible architecture. While we were disinclined to agree, a swath of industry experts and media outlets claimed this was a terrible blueprint for the brand and expected Zipse to come up with something different.
However, he looks to be offering more of the same. That begs the question as to why Krüger actually left the company and taints the validity of suggestions that his product strategy was internally viewed as a failure.
Maybe BMW needed someone to fall on the sword over its declining share price or perhaps Krüger found the leadership role tiresome. We don’t know. But we can be reasonably certain that Zipse is going into the position armed with a nearly identical product strategy. Framed by Automotive News as “a bold way forward,” the outlet referenced a speech Zipse gave in England earlier this month:
Zipse delivered a 40-minute talk at the Oxford plant, half of it devoted to why BMW should not go down the same path as Volkswagen Group and others in creating vehicle platforms that are uniquely electric. Instead, he said, BMW must have platforms that can go either way.
That has been a topic of strategic debate inside BMW in recent years, complicated by the company’s relatively limited global production capacity.
BMW in June said it will introduce 25 electrified models by 2023. Zipse was at the plant in southern England to present Mini’s first electric car, the Cooper SE. It is built on the same platform as combustion-engine cars that are moving down the same assembly line. He said the cost to adapt the plant was minimal and did not require a big effort.
Zipse, a mechanical engineer who once studied computer science at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, has been vocal for years about making BMW’s factory network more efficient and flexible. As board director with responsibility for production, he led the company to expand in Hungary, China and the U.S., while bolstering the company’s industry-leading profit margins.
At the time, he had not been confirmed by BMW’s board as the new CEO. That allows for the possibility of him parroting plans established under Krüger. But he did know he was up for consideration, meaning anything he said during the speech was likely to be heard by the board — shaping future policy and his prospects as a corporate head.
During the conference, Zipse said flexibility would be essential in ensuring a lucrative future. “If we predict the success of 3 series, we can be pretty much spot on,” he said. “To predict electromobility is much more difficult. If you are not flexible either way, it’s very difficult for you to succeed in the market. Succeeding is staying profitable.”
That’s more-or-less what we’ve heard from the automaker over the last two years. However, Zipse may yet have something new to offer. As electrification typically requires sizable investments and routine production headaches, good-old Zipsey’s background might make him better-suited to coping with reconfiguring assembly lines and maximizing efficiency. Regardless, it will take some time for any new plans to manifest and it’s to remain business as usual over at BMW in the interim.
Zipse officially takes over for Krüger in the middle of next month.
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