Famous Family Businesses – BMW

by | Apr 8, 2022 | Celebrating Family Business

BMW may seem like a presumptuous brand because of its hefty price tag, but the company has an unusual and interesting history. The name itself stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH, which roughly translates to “the Bavarian Engine Works Company.” It originated from the state of Bavaria in Germany, hence, the name.

Start the Engine

When the company was established way back in 1917 by the Munich firm Rapp-Motorenwerke, they didn’t immediately get down to the business of making the BMW cars you see out on the streets now. Their main goal? Building four-cylinder aircraft engines, particularly for German pilots to fly during World War I.

Then in 1920, the company was incorporated into Knorr-Bremse AG. It was renamed BMW AG in 1922. Their role during the War has put much criticism on the brand. They have since worked hard to rebrand and market their vehicles as luxury vehicles. So did they start making cars from the beginning? Not exactly.

If you know BMW, then you know they aren’t only famous for their shiny four-wheelers. After they were established as BMW AG, they manufactured motorcycles. Their first model was released in 1923. The first BMW car wouldn’t be made until five years later in 1928. Their main headquarters remain in Munich, Germany. Interestingly enough, their HQ’s buildings are four cylindrical buildings called BMW-Vierzylinder or BMW four-cylinder.

Almost Running on Empty

There was a time when BMW’s name disappeared temporarily from the spotlight. In August of 1918, the motor company became a stock corporation. The end of WWI stopped the construction of aircraft engines, as the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany from building them. Running out of options, BMW opted to focus on making railway brakes and built-in motors. They didn’t stay off the radar for long though.

After the Second World War, in 1937, the company tried to move into the small-car market for everyday drivers but they could cont effectively compete against Volkswagen’s compact and inexpensive automobiles. Only a handful of years later, in 1959, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. At this point, the managers were planning to sell the firm to Daimler-Benz.

Fortune graced the company by the name of German entrepreneur Herbert Quandt. He acquired a controlling interest in the firm and BMW introduced its 700 series. A pretty successful launch that jumpstarted BMW’s popularity and demand once more. It was soon followed by the equally successful 1500 model. Around the same time, the company introduced a new series of motorcycles in the United States that became popular.

Family Road Trip to Luxury

After Herbert Quandt drove BMW to the high road of luxury, he became a major shareholder for many years up until his passing in 1982. After his passing, he was survived by a son, a daughter, and his third wife. His two children, Stefan Quandt and Susanne Klatten became instant billionaire heirs to the BMW fortune. Unfortunately, their mother Johanna Quandt in 2015 left all of the motor company’s shares to Stefan and Susanne.

At present, the Quandt siblings are two of the richest people in Germany. They were also listed on the Forbes 2021 Real-Time Billionaires List. Stefan owns a 23.6% share of BMW while his sister Susanne, the richest woman in Germany, owns 19.1%. Together, they own almost half of the entire company. Both siblings still currently serve on BMW’s supervisory board with Stefan as the deputy chairman.
Shifting Up

In 1972, BMW carved a name for itself in the car industry when they came up with the 1602 Elektro-Antrieb or the 1602e, their first-ever electric car. It was first unveiled at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany to service VIPs and athletes.

Some of their more unconventional models include The Blaster or the BMW Flamethrower. It was invented by South African inventor Charl Fourie in 1998. The Flamethrower is designed to be a defense against carjackings. By flipping a switch, literal flamethrowers will blast from below the doors on both sides with the help of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), right into the path of the degenerate trying to break into the car. It’s as badass as you can imagine.

Despite the long decades of ups and downs for BMW, the company still has a steady fanbase of car enthusiasts. And although the company had gone through multiple name changes, the initial technical equipment, assets, and workforce remained the same.

Drive to Fame

The nickname “beemer”, “beamer”, or “bimmer” have long been associated with BMWs. Strictly speaking, the first two refer to BMW motorcycles and the latter refer to automobiles. These are just semantics, though, and time has blurred these terms together. As for its logo, BMW initially did not have one. As a startup motor company trying to build planes, they didn’t need one.

As they rebranded and switched to making land transportation engines, they needed something to set them apart from other companies. Business mindset as usual. Now the BMW logo features Bavarian colors but inverse order to follow the law that forbids the use of state coats of arms or other symbols of sovereignty on commercial logos or goods.

The four quadrants were believed to represent a spinning airplane propeller as a nod to the motor company’s roots. There are numerous interviews with founders, executives, and managers of the brand that says this isn’t exactly accurate, but as time passed and the majority of the public assumed it to be true, the company has since sort of adapted this symbolism.

Arriving at Destination

By the end of the 20th Century, BMW was a firmly established premium and luxury automobile brand. They tried to venture into sport-utility vehicles to widen their clients but failed to do so. BMW tried to purchase the Rover Group in 2004 but lost roughly $4 billion before eventually selling the Land Rover to Ford at the beginning of the 21st Century.

A year later, in 2001, the company saw great success with their relaunch for the British MINI. It was such a huge hit that it eventually became a brand under the BMW Group. Just two years after, in 2003, Rolls-Royce also joined the family. BMW, MINI, and Rolls-Royce are three of the world’s most successful premium manufacturers of automobiles.

Although still considered a high-end vehicle, with many not able to afford their models, the brand still finds ways to innovate and develop engines that can level up the automobile industry. The brand BMW has come a long way since its conception, and it will continue to climb up as it continues to shape the face of mobility in the future.

Instant Facts

  • BMW’s first electric car called the 1602e was launched during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.
  • The BMW Blaster is a model made for defense against carjacking. There are literal flamethrowers that can be turned on to drive away carjackers.
  • BMW has to recall their GPS due to the misogynist notion of German males who refused to take directions from a GPS with a woman’s voice.
  • The BMW headquarters is designed to resemble a four-cylinder engine just like in the cars they make.