Date:03-15 11:00 Source：autochina.comnews.cn Authour：He Lun
BMW's 100th anniversary has been one of the hottest topics in auto circles recently. Brands like Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Peugeot, Toyota (Crown), Bosch, BAIC and Zotye have either actively or passively been involved, and a whole range of comments - scorn, indignation and jealousy, ridicule, humor and requests for support - have occupied the pages of social media. But behind this hurly-burly is the competition for the future auto market, with the struggle between the top three German premium auto brands (BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi) drawing the closest attention.
Q: You attended BMW's centenary celebration. What impressed you most?
A: BMW are smart. Of the top three German auto brands, BMW is the youngest, so Mercedes-Benz and Audi obviously have more to say in terms of their history. That's why BMW chose to focus on the future, both by giving the celebration the theme of "next century", and by releasing the "centenary logo". This seems to say that March 7, 2016 is BMW's 100th birthday and also the starting point of the next 100 years for the global auto industry. BMW has the confidence to seize the high ground during the next 100 years. It has been the world's No.1 premium auto brand for 10 years in spite of strong challenges from Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Besides, what's wrong with being young? Doesn't the future belong to the young?
Q: But Mercedes-Benz and Audi also attach importance to the future. So who is going to come out strongest?
A: That's hard to say. Each of the three auto brands has its own individual characteristics - Mercedes-Benz has a long and rich history and is experienced and astute, Audi is indomitable and vibrant with the synergy it derives from the VW Group, and BMW is young, ambitious and full of vitality. I once said that this is a tournament full of suspense (see Cross-century Tournament of Top Three German Auto Brands).
In terms of marketing, Audi's brand concept is "Vorsprung durch Technik" and it emphasizes "vision to future" in China, Mercedes-Benz calls itself the "auto inventor that re-invents cars" and emphasizes "to the top, to the future", while BMW says "better create the future than foresee it". The concept of "next century" promoted at the centenary event was truly brilliant. Generally speaking, BMW's slogan is more imposing and resounding than the competition.
Q: You are the only person from the Chinese media who attended the centenary celebrations of both Audi and BMW. Can you compare them?
A: Audi's centenary celebration (2009) was classier because the German premier Merkel attended it and gave a speech that lasted almost 30 minutes (see Who Can Represent German Auto Industry?-Century-long Audi Illustrates Family Glory). BMW was unlucky because Merkel, who was scheduled to attend the celebration, was detained in Brussels by the EU-Turkey refugee negotiations, and could only send a congratulatory video of a few minutes duration.
On the other hand, Manfred Bischoff, boss of Mercedes-Benz's CEO Dieter Zetsche and chairman of Daimler's Board of Supervisors, and Audi CEO Rupert Stadler both attended the BMW event and were invited to the celebratory luncheon earlier, but I don’t believe that any Mercedes-Benz or BMW executives attended Audi's celebration. This is perhaps because Audi, as a subsidiary of VW Group, had too many big shots to attend to, including executives from the group, heads of VW's other 11 brands, and high-ranking government officials such as the German premier and the governor of Bavaria.
Q: Which event do you think was stronger in terms of impact?
A: Audi's celebration was quite traditional. It was an outdoor event on the evening of July 16, and all the arrangements, from the executive's speeches through the exhibition of classic models to the concert starring the famous pianist Lang Lang, were aimed at highlighting the brand's century-long history and accumulated experience as well as its vision of the future.
But BMW's celebration was completely different. It was held at the Olympic Stadium, and the brand history was only briefly reviewed through a speech and a series of photos on the big screen. The real focus was on the next century. The acoustics, lighting and electronic renderings felt highly digital and futuristic, and the children on the screen were symbolic of the future. Of course the best illustration of the future is the BMW VISION NEXT 100 Concept especially created for the centenary celebration.
In terms of publicity, the BMW celebration was exciting intense speculation before the event took place, and there was even a countdown, but with Audi's celebration, there wasn't much coverage in the Chinese media either before or after the event. BMW invited 18 members of the Chinese media and provided in timely manner a complete set of materials in Chinese, ranging from executives' speeches and media Q&A to speeches by government officials and product introductions. In comparison, I remember that Audi only invited about six Chinese media representatives to their event, and materials in Chinese were either lacking or arrived late.
More importantly, BMW's BMW VISION NEXT 100 Concept alone is a conversation topic that can last for years, and the successive launches of the future-oriented Rolls Royce, MINI and BMW motorcycle within the year will retain the public’s excitement and attention. In sum, BMW made full use of the centenary celebration to implement its marketing to the best and fullest effect.
On the global stage, Audi has always lagged behind BMW in marketing, and I think Audi CEO Stadler must have learnt a few things during the BMW event.
Q: Some people have compared the BMW VISION NEXT 100 Concept with Mercedes-Benz's F015 Concept. What's your opinion?
A: These two concept models do have similarities. As the name suggests, BMW's NEXT 100 signifies the "next century", but as BMW chairman Kruger said, nobody can predict what the next century will be like. This concept car reflects "our ideas about mobility after 2030".
Launched last January, the Mercedes-Benz F015 is also telling a story about post-2030. In terms of exteriors, both models are equipped with large LED modules that can deliver multiple lighting messages and enrich communication with pedestrians and other vehicles; in terms of interiors, they both have large gesture control screens or touchscreens for on-board MMI and for drivers and passengers to obtain all kinds of information and interact with other vehicles and other people. But their screens are installed in different positions - Mercedes-Benz making provision for rear seat passengers while BMW focuses on the driver. Both models have the twin functions of driver control and automated driving and can shift between the two freely.
Both incorporate what they call "flexible structure" in their interiors, so the steering wheel will retract when the automated driving model is activated to give the driver more space, and the seat direction can be adjusted too. But BMW takes the driver as the center and the front seats cannot make a 180-degree turn, whereas Mercedes-Benz enables front and rear seat passengers to chat face to face through seat adjustment. Moreover, BMW's "flexible structure" has an additional function - the 800 movable triangles on the instrument panel can form various 3D patterns that, accompanied with special sounds, work with the electronic display to provide the driver with all kinds of driving information, which is really cool. Finally, both models stress the use of new and lightweight materials.
In general, the two models feature similar technologies. The main difference is that while Mercedes-Benz focuses on future luxury and, technologically speaking, takes good care of rear seat passengers, BMW emphasizes "ultimate driving machine" and is technologically inclined toward the driver. This reflects the different car-building concepts of the two luxury auto brands.
Furthermore, the "digital smart partner" on BMW's concept car can learn the driver's driving habits and adapt to the driving environment. Although Mercedes-Benz's concept car doesn't have such a "learning" system, the brand introduced its artificial intelligence to Chinese journalists at the R&D center in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, after the Detroit Auto Show at the end of January this year. Besides, the IAA Concept that Mercedes-Benz released at the Frankfurt Auto Show last September was reputed as a "transformer" because it's able to reduce the drag coefficient to 0.19 through head and tail adjustment when running at high speed, while with the "flexible structure" on BMW's concept car, the enclosed adjustable wheel arch on the outside can reduce the overall drag coefficient to 0.18.
Q: Audi is the only one of the top three German auto brands that doesn't have such a futuristic concept car yet.
A: That's right, but regarding automated piloting, the key area in future auto development, Audi is in a leading position in terms of production models as it has begun the mass production of zFAS, the central element for automated piloting. Featuring a modular design, zFAS has flexible and variable functions and is capable of independent study and self-improvement that ensures "expandable" information volume and intelligence. It also includes the Car-to-x all-road perception, analysis, and multimedia information communication technology that is being applied in the competitor's concept cars. As to delivering messages through lighting, Audi also lives up to the reputation as a light factory (see What Are Future-oriented Automakers Doing?).
In sum, regarding futuristic auto technology, the top three German auto brands are basically moving in the same direction although with different focuses and strengths. Any of them might take the lead in a specific aspect for a while, but might equally be overtaken by the competition.