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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.