By on May 4, 2020

A lot of people gripe about BMW losing its edge. Formerly reserved for the greatest performance vehicles in its lineup, the M designation has migrated to encompass a rather large subset of the BMW fleet. While this has undoubtedly helped the brand boost its sales for years, it also muddied the waters of what constitutes an M.

In the past, BMW’s M vehicles denoted a marked increase in horsepower and real-world performance. Now they’re intermixed with M Sport trims that split the difference between standard fare and bonkers M in terms of output. And they haven’t been turning up the dial lately. In fact, the performance division of all German automakers seem to have slowed down on maximizing performance while the core business prioritizes fuel efficiency and electrification — largely because it’s expected of them by regulators.

It may not be so cut and dried. BMW CEO Markus Flasch has taken a keen interest in the M division, saying “we have to be very careful to preserve what M stands for” while evolving the brand. More recently, he said the automaker had no intent to cap output to appease anyone, claiming that the company’s performance arm has to think carefully about the future. 

In a recent interview with Australia’s Whichcar, Flasch explained that, “M has never been a competing brand to BMW. M is the exaggeration of what BMW stands for in terms of driving pleasure. M supplements BMW, and it’s going to remain this way.”

With around half of all BMWs sold wearing an M badge of some kind, that might be a difficult claim to ratify. It’s also hard to believe that the company could pursue gigantic gains in power without also being preoccupied with efficiency. Let’s use the M5 as an example:

The E28 came equipped with a 3.5-liter I6 when it debuted in 1984. By the late 1990s, the E39 had 4.9-liter V8. Things peaked with the E60’s 5.0-liter V10 before BMW decided to tamp down displacement and economize its entire lineup — which is why all M vehicles saw their engine sizes maxed in the early 2000s. From a business standpoint, this was probably wise and highly necessary to adhere to European emission mandates. But it showcases that BMW has more to consider than delivering ever-sharper performance.

Regardless, power is still an essential part of the equation — one Flasch said cannot be lost in the noise of modernizing. When asked about why jumps in output seemed so much weaker with the last round of M vehicles, he responded by saying power needs to be manageable to be truly enjoyed.

2000 BMW M5 E39 - Image: BMW

“Power is nothing without control, right? And if there isn’t something with too much power it’s just a question of how you tune in and hone into a car, and how you make it accessible,” Flasch explained. “You look 10, 15 years back and if you imagined 625 horsepower in a saloon car, you’d probably be scared. Now, I can give an M5 this 625 horsepower and only drive to my mom, in winter, and she’d still be okay. It’s all just a question of how you incorporate it into a package that makes it accessible for everyone, and this is what M has always been brilliant in. Don’t expect a power limit.”

He also said BMW did not adhere to any gentleman’s agreement to limit the power of M cars, which is factually false. German manufacturers limit the top speed of sedans and station wagons to 155 mph in an agreement reminiscent of the horsepower cap agreed to by Japanese automakers in the 1990s. While Japan broke the rules by simply listing all performance models as boasting 276 bhp (the agreed-upon limit) and building them with more, BMW will let you pay extra to take a driving course and have the electronic speed limiter disabled. Technically, the only way for an ultra-powerful car to stop you from going over that speed it to gear it so it can’t or have an electronic nanny show up and cut the throttle.

This is stacking up to be a dismal assessment. BMWs were making nearly 600 horsepower ten years ago and effectively do adhere to a gentlemen’s agreement to limit power in a way. Yet Flasch also seems to know what’s good about BMW’s M Division, touting the M2 as a major achievement for the brand — as well as his personal favorite.

“The M3 and the M4 have grown up a bit and we feel the M2 is the smaller, crisper, rougher package. These cars don’t compete with each other. I’m very happy with the set-up that we have and we’ll keep it this way,” he said.

With the M2 looking safe, Flasch noted that the same may not be said for the manual transmission. Of the luxurious M sedans, he said that only the United States had any palpable excitement of late. However, the U.S. doesn’t have the same interest in the more mainstream models, encouraging BMW to look at be-clutched automobiles as more specialty fare. In the future, BMW models offering a manual transmission will likely cost more than their automatic brethren and be left to enthusiast-oriented models. You could even make the claim this has already happened (and will probably become standard practice within the industry).

[Images: BMW AG]


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21 Comments on “BMW Tries to Picture M Division’s Future, Says No Cap on Power...”

  • avatar

    “It’s all just a question of how you incorporate it into a package that makes it accessible for everyone, and this is what M has always been brilliant in.”

    Not only is this false, it confirms that the widely held belief that BMWs are no longer driver’s cars, is in fact company policy.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    In other words: “We don’t know what we’re doing. We have a million unique models, and we’re desperately hoping we cast a wide enough net that enough people buy M products to legitimize the BMW brand, yet enough people buy economy models to satisfy the regulators.”

    No guts.

    At least Dodge has guts. They build Demons and Hellcats for happy buyers, then simply pay the carbon credits to Tesla as pennance. No apologies.

  • avatar

    There might be no future if all they care about is a horse power. It is the time to take environmental responsibility more seriously and stop making M cars. We do not have unlimited resources. And they keep trowing CO2 into atmosphere as if there are no future. It is good moment to stop and contemplate how to transform industry into one beneficial for environment, like Tesla.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s great that we have all this cheap oil available for manufacturing Teslas, but a luxury object whose production and distribution consumes energy and resources on the scale of five to ten times the world median household income is not environmentally beneficial just because it uses less fossil fuel to power it. Drive a Mitsubishi Mirage if you really want to virtue signal.

    • 0 avatar

      Get a load of this guy.

      When the industry giants shift the blame to the individual, you know there’s something the industry is doing far worse. Reduce all emissions by 20% and you’ve done the equivalent of removing 5 cargo ships, of which there are about 3,700 running around with no emissions solutions at all. Leave my car alone.

    • 0 avatar

      Inside looking out: Performance and efficiency are not impossible to have together. I do agree at reducing GHG emissions is a crucial endeavor but one needs to look at where they come from and how reduction affects people right now. Essentially we are asking people today to start bearing the cost of reduction for the next generation. Considering we are struggling to get some people to wear a mask for the good of each other TODAY, that is an uphill battle. Performance models per se really don’t amount to much in the big picture. Better ROIs can be achieved by things like methane leakage, which IIRC, are responsible for 35% of warming due to their efficacy as a heat trapper. Yet, those regulations were just hammered by the current administration. Look at city skylines, even now during business closings. All those lights represent gobs of GHG emissions. Eliminating such waste has a huge impact and does not have any effect on the population at large. Go for the real waste and inefficiency first. You can’t make a meaningful reduction in overall emissions by targeting select high powered engines that sell in tiny numbers. That’s like trying to reduce your electric bill by unplugging nightlights and USB chargers while your A/C is set to 68 degrees.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Channeling my inner Deadweight. Did the BMW poobah more or less admit that some “M” packages are basically vinyl stripes, a spoiler, and leather seats for an additional $7995. Or is an “M” keyfob something that should be hanging out a purse while the owner consumes a kale and quinoa salad at the galleria? A big engine in small car? You know who came up with that idea? Americans, let me repeat AMERICANS! You live someplace where a liter o gas costs more than a liter of cheap vodka? So sorry, did I say freedom too? One of the best V-8 engines ever built is a small block Chevy (SBC). Holding up my hand in defense, no disrespect to the Blue Oval and MOPAR guys. SBC’s are anvil reliable and can be worked on well, just about anywhere in North America. SBC’s are also some of the cheapest horsepower generators ever created. With BMW to get their V-8 which some delusional people think is hand-built in a special engine factory in an idyllic woods will easily add a 50% more to said BMW. It’s an either or situation. You can get a truck with a big stonking American V-8 and your significant other can get her ride for what one “built by really, really OCD Germans who might possibly be on the spectrum when it comes to building car engines cost. But, but, but el scotto my “M”, “S”, “AMG” can do 140 all day on the autobahn. No you can’t, perhaps out in the toolies or in the wee hours of the morning, maybe. Repeat, you will not and can not do 140mph all day long on the autobahn. Ain’t happening, why are you paying for something that is imagined? Save your dough and plop it down on something ‘murican with a V-8. I’m off to drink some Budweiser. From a can.

  • avatar

    Those v10’s love to spin their connecting rod bearings.

    J u n k

    • 0 avatar

      Every S-engine from BMW needs bearings replaced, but it’s quite widely known and relatively inexpensive to do it. Aftermarket bearings permanently fix the problem.

      Source: daily drive a manual S85 M6.

      • 0 avatar

        True, but you shouldn’t have to. Expansion tanks and water pumps are not supposed to be consumables. But on older BMWs they are. Newer ones? Don’t know but I’m sure there is somebody out there in B&B land that knows…

  • avatar

    Those v10’s love to spin their connecting rod bearings.

    J u n k

  • avatar

    Had a new BMW parked in my driveway this week (long story), so BMW was on my mind.

    Question… Peak BMW:
    a) Was in the past
    b) Is right now
    c) Will be sometime in the future

    My answer is (a) with ~80% confidence.

  • avatar

    Hopefully they remove the caps on driving engagement and character as well. Otherwise I stand by the theory that ///M stands for ///MSRP and ///More Profit. If iRacing is indicative of real life then even the M8 GTE car is no fun to drive. Ponderous, sounds like crap, brittle handling. No thanks. Hopefully the 2 keeps fighting the good fight.

  • avatar

    They’re all pathetic automatic scum anyways, BMW has been dead since they left the E chassis.

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