By on July 22, 2019

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.


[Image: Cineberg/Shutterstock]

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8 Comments on “BMW’s Next CEO: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Given the razor-thin (or non-existent) margins on EVs to date, a dedicated platform is the only way to go to get maximum efficiency from the vehicle on the road, and to maximize manufacturability, and to minimize costs.

    A flexible platform sounds good at first, but it inevitably suffers from compromises for both EV and ICE use. It is also much harder to engineer, akin to designing a vehicle that uses a 4, 6, or 8 cylinder engine and either a manual or automatic, sedan or wagon.

    IMO, mfrs who go this route are simply hedging their bets (sweet talk for the shareholders), but then they do so at the risk of being uncompetitive in the market.

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    Oh, no. The i3 was a shining example of being different. It actually is not all that great if one considers the cost, range, and other such mundane characteristics. With the range extender it was an awful hybrid. But I’m not sure if electric X1 is going to set the market on fire, not to mention go further on one Joulie than i3.

  • avatar

    How company like BMW can be so short sighted? Don’t they see that ICE is a dead end and there is no place for ICE in the near future? How they do not get that VW is doing all that for the reason, they are smart. Audi is going to kill BMW.

    • 0 avatar

      BMW has been turning out nice driving but unreliable garbage for nearly 15 years. They’ve been living off the roundel for long enough, but it’s been a very profitable 15 years for them.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Being family-owned, BMW is quite conservative and doesn’t want Germany’s bread-and-butter (building ICE cars) to go away. They’re in a state of denial, hoping that EVs are a fad like Rock n Roll or the Internet.

  • avatar

    Is he going to embrace their new slogan?

    “BMW. The Ultimate Washing Machine.”

  • avatar

    Why did Kruger leave? He left a sign in the executive break room that read: “Due to advances in DNA analysis, I will no longer be spitting in your coffee.” He was too late.

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