By on July 18, 2019

With Harald Krüger out, BMW needs a new CEO — one that can effectively transition the company into becoming and electrified automotive dreamscape. Krüger presumably wasn’t interested in taking that path. While that hardly makes him a monster, plenty of people felt that his reluctance to spend ludicrous amounts of money on developing EVs was tanking the company’s share price and making him look like a fool. Not us, though. Bending to investors every whim and chasing down trends with minimal foresight seems like top-tier dipshittery. But that’s the nature of the industry right now, for better or worse.

However, in the short term, it pays to promote electrification and Krüger’s measured strategy of gradually introducing more EVs via a flexible architecture was often seen as too conservative. Perhaps that’s the correct assertion and some new blood is in order at BMW if it’s to correct its course. But who do you pick? 

Oliver Zipse, according to Reuters. BMW said Zipse’s manufacturing expertise would be a blessing and, as he’s already the board member responsible for production, his knowledge of the company’s inner workings are already vast.

From Reuters:

Zipse has emerged as favorite because BMW’s efficient production network, which he expanded in Hungary, China and the United States, has helped the company deliver industry-leading profit margins despite its relatively small scale.

But experts say auto industry leaders also need other skills for the new era of software-driven electric and autonomous cars.

“A CEO needs to have an idea for how mobility will evolve in future. This goes far beyond optimizing an existing business,” said Carsten Breitfeld, chief executive of China-based ICONIQ motors, himself a former BMW engineer.

“He needs to be able to build teams, to attract key talent, and to promote a culture which is increasingly oriented along consumer electronics and internet dynamics.”

Being able to cope with shorter product cycles and new technologies, and a willingness to take bold decisions, are among the qualities needed, Breitfeld said.

Apparently, Krüger didn’t have those qualities… or did and simply backed away from electrification after BMW’s i3 proved to be a poor source of revenue. However, shying away from EVs had a chilling effect on engineers — sending some to rival manufacturers that were happier to focus on electrics. But suggestions that Krüger totally ignored the mobility shift are complete garbage.

BMW is among the first automakers to integrate Amazon’s Alexa directly into its multimedia system and has dabbled in some of the most aggressive connectivity features of any major manufacturer. It also recently said that every single one of its plug-in hybrid vehicles would have the ability to automatically switch to electric mode whenever it enters an area designated for “emissions-free driving” by 2020. BMW is even planing on introducing an app-based rewards points system that could pave the way for in-car micro-transactions. These aren’t exactly concepts we’re thrilled to see implemented into cars but they don’t represent a backwards-looking automaker.

Even though it did tamp down electrification plans, the company wasn’t ignoring EVs so much as trying to find a balance that would support more electrification further down the line (once the larger market is ready for them). “We can’t afford having two factories standing still,” Krüger said in 2018. “With a flexible approach, you can always manage the capacity of your plants. But if you have a specific EV architecture, what do you with the old one? What do you do with the people?”

That’ll be a question BMW’s next CEO will, no doubt, have to answer. But Reuters expects the broader issue has nothing to do with competing with rival manufacturers or keeping factories humming. It posited that BMW (and all automakers) need to find out how to become more than equipment suppliers for big tech. “Production expertise is important, but if you want to avoid ending up being a hardware provider for Google or Apple, you need to have the ability to move up the food chain into data and software,” a former BMW board member told the outlet, declining to be identified.

While continuously advancing software is incredibly important these days, it remains slightly bizarre that simply being a carmaker is no longer enough for ⁠— ahem ⁠— carmakers. The more time passes, the more they all seem to want to become Google. To us, that’s more than a little worrying. To investors, that’s the dream.

[Update 7/18/2019: Rather than narrowing the field, BMW’s supervisory board voted to give Zipse the CEO role during Thursday’s meeting in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He will take over August 16th, replacing Krüger, who will step down from the top job in August. The rest of the above still applies. Good luck, Zipsey!]

[Image: Cineberg/Shutterstock]

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23 Comments on “The Hunt For BMW’s New CEO Begins [UPDATE: That Was Fast!]...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    BMW needs to slim down its offerings. Last I checked, there were roughly 30 distinct permutations of vehicles on offer in the US market. That’s a lot of overhead for a company only selling ~350k vehicles in the market.

  • avatar

    With their focus on electrification, SUVs, and autonomous cars, I’m thinking they should look to the home appliance industry for the next CEO – like Electrolux or Miele. That would be more their speed.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I think Kruger will be snapped up either a KDM or JDM company in short order.

  • avatar

    Their next CEO should daily drive an E46.

    • 0 avatar

      Nah, I’m thinking a 2002.

      • 0 avatar

        Nope, 2 week rotation:

        Monday: E24 M635CSi
        Tuesday: E46 M3 CSL
        Wednesday: E23 745i (South African model with M88/3)
        Thursday: E92 M3 GTS
        Friday: E30 318is
        For the weekend: Alpina Roadster S (E85) & E61 M5 Touring manual

        Monday: E34 M5
        Tuesday: E36 M3 GT
        Wednesday: Alpina B12 (E38)
        Thursday: 2002tii (& F80 M3 CS for backup)
        Friday: Z8
        For the weekend: Alpina B6 3,5 (E30) & Alpina B5 Biturbo Touring (G31)

  • avatar

    The auto mfg (supplier) business is F ing Brutal.
    Mexico is picking my pocket.
    China is eating my lunch.
    End less brutal price beat downs.
    Rush to Autonomy now.
    Rush to electric cars.
    You are stupid if you stay in this crap business.

    I was in Aerospace and defense for a while. Then back in Auto. I turned down a job offer form Boeing. HUGE career mistake.

  • avatar

    “However, shying away from EVs had a chilling effect on engineers — sending some to rival manufacturers that were happier to focus on electrics.”

    I find this rather difficult to believe, unless German engineers are as optimistic/naive as the shareholders.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I took that statement to mean the project portfolio was pretty bleak without EVs in it.

      As an engineer, I want to work on products that actually have a chance of selling. Since the Eurocrats have lost their minds in similar fashion to California, EVs are being legislated into production. That results in a job shift in the industry.

      I’m an EV fan because I like the ownership and driving experience, but I’m not a fan of government meddling to make them viable. But engineers have to go where the work is.

      One example: In the US, 3-series sales have fallen 56% in 4 years, and were outsold 3:1 by the Tesla Model 3 last year. That should concern BMW.

      • 0 avatar

        Interesting fact you posted there. I’ve put over 23,000 miles on my car so far this year, and being always on the lookout for new cars, I’ve been on the lookout for the new 3-series. You know how many I’ve seen on the highways and interstates? Three. That’s it. I know my corner of the US isn’t a good sample size given it isn’t the DC-area where 3-series go to spawn, but I’m driving a lot of highways that head cross=country so it does give me a good sample size.
        I’ve seen more new $80,000 X7 models than 3-series. But the market has shifted and an eyeball count shows that the GLC and X3 seem to be the entry-level German cars to get now.
        Or part of it could be that for the past few generations, the 3-series has gone further and further from what the core 3-series buyer (not leaser) wants and has gotten puffier, softer, with an overload of tech (including some of the worst dashboard graphics seen in a long time) and overpriced options like the M-sport to make your 3-series feel like a “real” 3-series again.
        The 3-series used to be the car that the middle manager or the just starting out attorney/doctor aspired to get as a sign that they have “arrived.” BMW now needs to ask themselves, what is it?
        And cull the herd please…when numbers 1 to 7 are taken in the X-line, you have too many models.

      • 0 avatar

        “As an engineer, I want to work on products that actually have a chance of selling.”

        As another engineer, I agree completely. Which is why I think it’s silly to base employment decisions on whether or not your company is aggressively catering to 2% of the new vehicle market. Even with upcoming regulations we are a long way from EVs making any kind of significant impact as a fraction of new vehicle sales.

        3 Series sales may be down, but how are X series vehicles doing these days?

        • 0 avatar

          May 2019 numbers – the X1 to X7 make up 56% of BMW sales. Passenger car sales are down double digits percentage wise and that includes the introduction of the new 3-series. I’m looking for numbers that break down each model because I’m curious what the models I see so few of (the GT models, the X2 and X4 also) are selling.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    No coverage on the sudden shutdown of car-sharing service ReachNow?

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      Those limited regional rental services are a dime a dozen, mired with operational problems, and none seem to last very long. I wouldn’t consider that a BMW-specific issue of much note. But, yes, BMW did kill it off this week. To the best of my knowledge the joint-venture with MB is supposed to crop back up rebranded as “ShareNow,” likely with Daimler calling the shots. Draw any conclusions you’d like to from that. I haven’t made up my mind yet.

  • avatar

    “What do you do with the people?”

    Lay them off of course, what else can you do? Only European can ask such a stupid question. Lay off all of them and replace with SW engineers on H1B visas from Asia, very cheap. Or even better – outsource new BMW development projects to India entirely like Boeing did.

  • avatar

    So sad to see BMW being slowly but surely forced to give up their mission and adopt a new one that looks like everyone else’s. Now that has even impacted the CEO.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    I have been a big BMW fan over the years, so yes I’m concerned.

    Agree that chasing trends with minimal foresight is like having style, but not any substance. Reminds me of Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, where people had all the right moves and all the right looks, but they didn’t succeed with those close to them because they only had puddle depth mentality.

    As the former BMW engineer says, real leaders go far beyond optimizing an existing business. In a time of worldwide change, top auto leadership can’t be adequately or successfully managed by a sophisticated imitator wrapped in a tough shell and buoyed by self-love (my take on the product output). Those qualities, while incredibly useful, are just not enough to navigate the changing environment.

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