Access to information has been democratized by the internet, but access to powerful individuals remains a high bar for most. So, when we had a chance to sit down with one of BMW’s upper-echelon execs and throw him some questions about Motorrad’s current and future plans, we elbowed our way in.

010617-Bmw-schwarzenbauer-interview-portraitPeter Schwartzenbauer might be a name unfamiliar to you, but he’s become one of BMW’s most influential executives since being placed as a member of BMW AG’s Board of Management in 2013. In addition to overseeing BMW’s Mini and Rolls-Royce brands, he’s also responsible for the BMW Motorrad division, following two decades of working at Porsche and Audi.

BMW Motorrad, the motorcycle branch, has been on a roll lately, having stayed on the gas during the Big Recession and coming out the other side with a bounty of new models as well as increased market share and sales. It sold nearly 137,000 bikes in 2015, a record, and Motorrad is forecasting to grow all the way to 200k units in 2020. Company reps say BMW is now a market leader in 27 countries, up from just 13 in 2013.

We caught up with Schwartzenbauer during the reveal of Beemer’s new bagger, the K1600B, which was the day before BMW unveiled its futuristic and dramatic Vision 100 Next concept bike.

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BMW K1600B Official Debut In Los Angeles

BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100: The Great Escape

Here’s a few tidbits gleaned from our interview before we get to the Q&A. Full disclosure: I wasn’t the only journalist asking questions from this roundtable discussion (just the best ones!).

  • Expect another entry into the cruiser market from BMW to expand its growth potential in the important North American market.
  • The USA is BMW’s biggest market after Germany. It may vault to #1 in the next four years.
  • BMW has no plans to build motorcycles with engines smaller than that in the G310 series.
  • He didn’t deny there is a new version of the recently departed G650 in BMW’s future pipeline.
  • BMW will continue down the road of electric-powered scooters like its C Evolution, but don’t expect an e-motorcycle anytime soon.
  • BMW expects to have fully autonomous cars on the road by 2021, with assistance from technical partners Intel and Israel’s Mobileye.
  • The upcoming era of autonomous vehicles might facilitate a boom of new motorcycle riders.

Why start with G310R instead of the new GS version?

It was mainly driven by the Brazilian market, which is the biggest market in this segment, and they are more the roadster type. In South America, we are probably going to double our sales. We will have a complete family with this one-cylinder engine.

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2017 BMW G310GS Unveiled at EICMA

Other than the new K1600B bagger, what can we expect for the North American market?

One of the main products which we can offer in North America which we can work with well is customizing the R-nineT. We could imagine customizing even more, so that the individual can adjust the bike. This is working quite well in the American market, and now we have a bike to be able to offer that and which you will see more from us.

So, something like the R5 concept?

Sounds like a good idea!

This R5 custom was placed near the unveiling of the K1600B bagger, and it likely foreshadows an upcoming new entry into the cruiser segment for BMW based on its R-nineT series. It could be a viable Beemer cruiser if it’s as lean and lovely as this concept. Photo by Duke.

This R5 custom was placed near the unveiling of the K1600B bagger, and it likely foreshadows an upcoming new entry into the cruiser segment for BMW based on its R-nineT series. It could be a viable Beemer cruiser if it’s as lean and lovely as this concept. Photo by Duke.

What does a BMW cruiser say that’s different from an American cruiser?

I think we have to find our own interpretation. Take this K1600 bagger – it’s an Americanized design from a lot of American designers and stylists working with us on this, but still when you ride it and you see the details, it’s 100% BMW technology. And I think this combination of localizing a little bit more the (local) tastes, but having BMW technology could be a way of being even more successful in the future.

What do you foresee as the next trend?

The customizing area is becoming increasingly important – we see more and more people who want to do their bike just a little bit different. It’s not an easy one for us, to be honest, because we are used to produce masses, so to customize bikes is not easy to do. It’s a challenge for us, but we think it’s worthwhile to go for it because the demand is so high – people want to have their own bike.

What will be the core role of motorcycles in next era of transportation?

Up till now, the role of motorcycling is more a lifestyle. It’s something you want to do leisurely. Most people are not using it just for transportation, at least not in the developed world. People will still like to have this kind of, as we call it, escaping the world, because you go on the bike and you are a little bit out there. But on the other hand, I see more and more the need for two-wheel mobility, especially when it comes to work mobility. We, as a society, could use two-wheelers much better in the future to organize our mobility in major cities around the world using two-wheelers that are fully electric. Look for a second role – not only the leisure role – to become a big part of increasing mobility in cities.

When will BMW build an electric motorcycle?

We have an electric scooter now; bikes, I’m not so sure this comes so quickly. We built a prototype, a fully electric motorcycle which we showed last year [pictured below], but we are not sure the time is right for something like this. We are concentrating now on developing more scooters which are electric.

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How do you reach the Millennial generation?

We see that motorcycling somehow in the last five years I’d say became cooler again. There was a time that motorcycling was out almost, and since at least in the last five years, we’ve seen more people either coming back – people who were motorcycling when they were young – and we’ve seen more and more younger people starting to be on the bikes. And we think that with our smaller bikes now below 500cc, the entrance into biking becomes much easier. If you have a GS (R1200), it’s quite a bike, and to start with this bike, it’s not an easy one. I think with this smaller version, we will see a lot more people getting into biking than we have ever seen before.

How will the introduction of autonomous vehicles affect motorcycling?

Everything which we are developing in the car side when it comes to this autonomous driving, a lot of this technology, we will see – I don’t know exactly the year now, but 10 years probably – we will see this becoming standard in motorcycling. Not because you are riding around autonomously, but motorcycling will become so much safer when you ride (in the future), and I think this will also trigger that so more and more people are going to be part of motorcycling again because it is becoming more safe.

 

Envisioning motorcycles 30 years in the future, BMW unveiled this Vision 100 Next concept the day after we spoke to Schwartzenbauer. Not only can it balance itself, it’s intended to be uncrashable. Photo by Duke.

Envisioning motorcycles 30 years in the future, BMW unveiled this Vision 100 Next concept the day after we spoke to Schwartzenbauer. Not only can it balance itself, it’s intended to be uncrashable. Photo by Duke.

If we would be able to offer a bike that is so safe that you don’t need a helmet, you don’t need the gear stuff you have to wear, you can ride it and there is no way you are going to have an accident with this bike, then I think we are going to address a lot more people on a motorcycle than we are doing now. That’s the ultimate goal: riding without any fear of having an accident on a bike.

Won’t that detract from the riding experience?

On the contrary, I think the riding experience will be even more exciting because all of sudden, even if you are not a professional rider, you are going to experience a really exciting riding sensation because the bike is so capable. I think it will add a lot of people who currently don’t think about being on a motorbike because they think it’s too dangerous. If you can show that there is no danger whatsoever, you can just have fun with it, you’ll see a lot more people doing it.

How do you see the future of motorcycling in 15 to 20 years?

Just imagine a fully autonomous world and we all ride around in rubber cars. I mean, what do you want to do on the weekend? You go out on a bike and have fun! So motorcycling will be an important part on the leisure side.

On the mobility side, I think it will grow in importance because it’s so much easier to get through a city on a two-wheeler, and if it’s electric, it’s perfect. So it will have a component of mobility and it will have a component of fun, leisure, adventure – whatever you want to put on it.

 

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Who do you see as BMW’s biggest threat or competitor?

Technology-wise, nobody. Seriously, I don’t see anybody on the technology side which would be more or less on the same level as BMW motorcycles. Brand-wise, there are brands out there, especially here in America, which are very, very effective. Technology-wise, I don’t see anybody.

Not even KTM? They must be giving you something to think about?

No.

If you could pick only one BMW for yourself, which would it be?

The electric scooter. If you stand at a traffic light and you really open the throttle, there is not one car that comes close at least for the first 100 meters. It’s really amazing. People sometimes think electric riding or driving is boring, but it’s exactly the contrary.

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  • Old MOron

    I guess when you’re competing for stock market value, you can’t afford to give your competitors any credit. That might explain why re refused to acknowledge KTM.

    • Kevin Duke

      Note his carefully referenced words about competition: “technology-wise.” He did not say that BMW doesn’t have any competition.

      • Old MOron

        Yes, I read that. My point is that he specifically refused to acknowledge KTM – and everyone else.

        He said, “Seriously, I don’t see anybody on the technology side which would be more or less on the same level as BMW motorcycles.”

        Your position affords you unique insights. Can you verify his claim? Probably not. Neither can Wall Street. But it sure sounds good, eh?

        • Kevin Duke

          Yep, your paraphrasing of his sentiment is accurate.

        • gjw1992

          It’s not just KTM – Honda have demonstrated their abilities even if little of the more advanced stuff hasn’t made it to production. The same could be said of BMW – state of the art production bikes but not way ahead. Much of the recent innovation – into BMW, KTM and others – has come from Bosch and its rider aids. But as mentioned, he’s in business and needs to stay positive.

  • JMDonald

    The future is now. I seriously doubt some of the things predicted here will come to fruition. I do see BMW pushing the envelope with their future offerings. It keeps getting better. The commitment of BMW will force the other manufacturers to develop competing bikes and that translates to good things for us.

    • Numbone

      Question: Compare and contrast the difference between a CEO and a layman.

      Answer: Both have doubt, one has vision.

      • JMDonald

        What is a leader? Leaders create value. Leaders create circles of influence. Leaders influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. A vision statement is an aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action. Is Mr. Schwartzenbauer A leader? Does he have vision? I can’t say. Not every CEO is a leader and not all have vision. Is it his vision (if he has one) that drives BMW or is it the other way around? If it is the other way around he is a manager not a leader. I would want to work for a leader.

  • Starmag

    Electric scooters are the contrary to boring because they are quick off the line. Right Pete. Because that’s all that matters when it comes to bike character. 260,000 high profit Harleys sold a year attest else wise. How exactly does robo-bike stop you from being squashed by a truck? A “perimeter warning !” light on the dash before you inspect the grill close up? This guy comes from sales, beware unicorn delivery systems.

    • Kevin Duke

      Why put words in his mouth? The guy didn’t even comment on anything regarding bike character. He just responded to my question of which BMW he’d choose for himself if you could choose just one. As for your robo-bike comment, nowhere did he say bikes would operate autonomously. He was saying that in a world of fully developed autonomous cars, operating a motorcycle would be safer because inattentive humans wouldn’t be running into them.

      • Starmag

        I put no words in his mouth.

        Boring is usually synonymous with lack of character in discussions of bikes and there’s more to the desirability of motorcycling than quickness in the first 100 meters. That’s why there are specific engineering positions in car and bike design to make sure they feel right and enough sound and vibration etc is left IN.

        I never mentioned or implied anything about autonomy.

        Your previous article on the Vision 100 has this quote direct from BMW:
        “As well as anticipating what lies ahead and alerting the user when
        action is needed, “they offer active rider protection and will consign
        the helmets and body protectors of today to the history books.”” Notice the model isn’t wearing any protective gear specifically to make this point.

        With what? A Star Trek-like force field?! Even if I give him that unprecedented unicorn, how would that protect you in your “bubble” from the destructive gravitational forces of being slammed by another heavier vehicle? Or a stationary telephone pole? Or even the hard parts of the motorcycle itself if you got off at 70-80mph say and your “bubble” was tumbling? Double unicorn.

        • Kevin Duke

          FWIW, when your first sentences in a post bookend a “Right Pete” comment, it kinda seems like you’re referring to his words even tho they weren’t.

          As for the unicorns, that concept bike supposedly exists in a world three decades in the future. It surely was difficult in 1987 to imagine the world’s information able to be called up on a pocket telephone.

          • Starmag

            I get future think. They are not only implying physical immunity with their model, they are stating it. That might not be a good thing to make available to those of ill intent, even were it possible, and in my opinion, would never be allowed. I’m sure there are people at BMW able to extrapolate as well or better than I, which gives this a whiff of vaporware up to no fiscal good.

    • Michael Howard

      Needs loud pipes? 😉

      • Starmag

        My Honda and two Kawasaki’s have the stock exhaust systems.

  • DickRuble

    “One of the main products which we can offer in North America which we can work with well is customizing the R-nineT.” This sentence alone provides all you need to know about this clown. It tells you he’s no motorcycle engineer. It tells you BMW’s goals have nothing to do with your desires/needs as a motorcyclist. It also tells you they have a patronizing attitude towards the customer; they have already determined that what you, the North American sucker need is the R-nine T. Of course, the fact that he manages the Mini and Rolls Royce should tell you that he’s no Soichiro Honda. It is a stuck up organization… go back and research what it took for them to make a bike that was not a boxer. I’ll take Aprilia, MV, even EBR any time over the bike for dummies philosophy and BMW arrogance.. unless there’s a really cheap deal I can find on a K1300GT.

    • Kevin Duke

      Oh, Dick, you’re obviously an intelligent person, but then you write stuff like this. That sentence isn’t all you need to know about this “clown.” The R-nineT has been a nice sales success for BMW, and now it’ll be backed up by the Urban G/S version and the Pure and Racer versions. And within the year we’ll see a bobber version that will appeal to a new demographic, further bolstering the business case for the old air-cooled Boxer platform that underpins the R-nineT series.

      Also, about Schwartzenbauer being no Soichiro Honda, I’ll bet even Honda wishes it had a Soichiro Honda. Further, he’s on Motorrad’s board of directors, he’s not the CEO, which is a completely different person and a moto enthusiast.

      BTW, I think the K13GT is one of the best ways to tour on two wheels. Have you ridden one yet? Superb machine.

      • DickRuble

        The R5 pictured in the story would be something I’d root for. For the rest.. the guy in question only provided standard, wooden tongue dialogue.. to stay polite..

        I haven’t ridden the K13GT though I’ve been looking for a good used one. I am a big fan of Hossack, which is part of the reason I like the bike.

    • They aren’t building bike exclusively for you. They are building them for a market and focusing on what people want. They aren’t going to dump millions into a bike nobody wants. That’s just a reality. The GS would have been dropped if nobody bought them.

  • Gruf Rude

    If