BMW Motorrad CEO Markus Schramm Interview Part 3
In this final segment of Alan Cathcart's interview with Markus Schramm, the retiring BMW Motorrad chief executive officer discusses the company's range of M-badged models and the brand’s approach to racing.
Alan Cathcart: Coming back to ICE, has the M 1000 RR been successful commercially for BMW? It’s a very high priced extension of the S 1000 RR range.
MS: Honestly, it’s worked much better than we ever planned! To put it in numbers, normally in the Superbike segment, you have a very steep life cycle, so the first or second full year of offering a model in the marketplace normally sees the highest sales volume before it tails off, and that was the case with the S 1000 RR, where we sold 10,300 units in year two of this current version, before we introduced the M-brand. This year we are now ending the fourth year of the life cycle at roughly 14,500 units, including our capacity limit of 1,500 examples of the M-version we are producing each year, which are sold out almost immediately. So sales of the base version are increasing, and by the way we have nearly a 90% takeup rate of the optional Competition package on the M-version. Together with the S 1000 R and the S 1000 XR, we sold almost 23,500 four-cylinder units last year.
So the M brand is a very strong brand for us. It helps us to create momentum with the base model as well - as I said, before we had 10,300 bikes sold in the normal peak year, but now after four years, we have increased it by nearly 40%. So I think that is a very convincing answer to whether it was a good idea to introduce the M brand!
AC: So now for 2023 you’ve spun the concept out to the M 1000 R Naked bike. Has that been successful?
MS: Yes, amazingly so. When we set up the M 1000 R, sometimes you just have to put a target on the table, and I said we should go for 50/50 - so 50% of the total volume of the R-model should be M, and the rest the base S 1000 R. Well, so far we are significantly above 50% with the M version, so at the end of the year we will have sold more M versions than the normal S 1000 R. It’s because there are a lot of customers who really want this leading edge technology together with the beauty of the design, but in a real world application. The M 1000 R is not yet one year on the market, but we’re looking at an annual volume of around 4,500 bikes for it. Not bad!
AC: Obviously this is a sector that pays off, so are you going to make an M-Boxer – an M 1300 R?
MS: Well, I think we are first looking to complete the first part of the strategy with the M 1000 XR, which I’m convinced will also be highly successful. We presented the prototype already on the TT in June when Peter Hickman took it for a demo lap, and we are presenting it later this year. It’s a Supersports motorcycle that excels in all riding disciplines - winding roads, long-distance touring, and track use. It’s amazing – same as on the M 1000 R, you don’t need 200 horsepower on a Naked bike, but if you have it – you enjoy it! And it also looks great, too, with the winglets, so I’m convinced this is also a very good offer, as well as the other two models. And then, for what comes next after that – well, we’ll see. Stay tuned!
[Editorial note: this interview took place in late Summer 2023. At the time, BMW had only teased the M 1000 XR, later revealing it in October alongside an updated S 1000 XR.]
AC: You’ve introduced several different applications of your patented RTM/Resin Transfer Moulding lower cost series production carbon fiber technology revealed back in 2017 with the carbon-framed HP4 Race. But we didn’t hear anything more about applying that technology to volume production chassis manufacture, like that bike, rather than just bodywork components?
MS: As you can see on any M-package model like the M 1000 RR, but even down to the normal RR, we clearly follow this path with carbon fiber parts. So we want to follow this way in the future focusing only on components, not a complete chassis like the HP4 Race.
AC: The M 1000 RR uses lots of technology derived from your factory World Superbike team, but, so far, the BMW has not been consistently competitive in World Superbike. Are you frustrated about this?
MS: No, not frustrated - but you’re right, we’re not where we should be. I’m not satisfied with the current situation. But at the end of the day, the RR was never developed to produce a World Superbike contender, so it always takes time from a technology point of view to develop a competitive motorcycle. But we are heavily investing in our WSBK engineering team, so I’m convinced that we’ll make our way to the top soon.
AC: It's taking a long time though! Sorry, but I remember being told back in 2010 that the S 1000 RR was conceived as a platform to compete in World Superbike, complete with a high-revving short-stroke engine. So you’ve now been competing in this category for 12 years, without really ever making the breakthrough. OK, winning takes a combination of many different elements, and of course one of those is riders. You’ve signed Toprak Razgatlioglu for 2024, which is a terrific coup, but if even he can’t turn the BMW into a consistent race winner, does that not risk devaluing the BMW Superbike brand?
MS: OK, on the one side, I’m very happy that we have Toprak, and obviously he must be convinced that BMW can win World Superbike races, otherwise we couldn’t have persuaded him to join us. But I’m convinced that we will be highly competitive in this category in 2024 with the new steps we are taking. As I’ve always said, we are committed to a long term involvement in WSBK, so we have the patience needed to achieve our goals. I’m convinced that with Toprak, we will make the right steps up the ladder to the top of the podium. For 2024 we will have two factory teams, and four riders – Toprak and Michael [van der Mark] in one, and Scott Redding with Garrett Gerloff in the other. Garrett has become a really consistent front runner, which is very pleasing.
However, we have a much broader approach to going racing than other manufacturers, because we have our Superbike for WSBK alongside our street-derived Superstock version, which others don’t have. We are clearly committed to our customers, and we are very successful in customer racing, up to and including the Isle of Man TT, which I would suggest is the greatest existing test of a motorcycle’s real world performance. Out of 50 riders taking part in the Senior TT in June this year, almost 40% were riding BMWs, including Peter Hickman, the winner – that’s 19 of the 50 starters, so easily the most numerous. And I was there in 2023 when Peter Hickman set a new outright lap record for the TT Course [at 136.358mph or 219.447kmh - AC] which he did on a completely standard race-prepared Superstock BMW M 1000 RR, not his tuned-up Superbike. So our approach to going racing is very broad, and is more about providing our customers with a versatile motorcycle than having a highly focused MotoGP-derived model fitted with lights.…
AC: Speaking of which, Toprak has rejected many attempts to persuade him to move to MotoGP. Is this something you envisage him doing with BMW, perhaps as the key factor in persuading him to join up with you? Or do you have any specific reasons why you would not want to stop being the only major European manufacturer who is not present in the MotoGP paddock?
MS: I stick to my statement which we’ve quite often discussed before, Alan - nothing has changed! We are not entering MotoGP, and the reason honestly is not the investment necessary, it’s because we want to develop bikes that our customers can purchase and go racing on, not very specialist machines made only for the MotoGP class. We regard racing as a beneficial means of developing such products for our customers, so we have a much broader focus than only going racing.
AC: As yet there are no Chinese manufacturers in Superbike racing, although that may change, but they’re becoming full-on competitors in all model segments now, including larger capacity models. What are your feelings about this?
[Editorial note: this month, the FIM confirmed that China’s QJ Motor will be competing in the 2024 World Supersport class with Raffaele De Rosa riding the QJ GSR 800. There still remains no Chinese manufacturer in the Superbike class.]
MS: As you know, we do not fear competition – in fact we love it, since such competition is always based on two things – technology, and the brand. We are leading the technology race across all market segments we choose to compete in, and we are clearly leading the battle of the brands. And that’s where we’re investing heavily, in order to maintain our position as the strongest brand. Technology you can copy – when you do your homologation in China, you have to show all your technology, which is now available for others to copy – as they will. It doesn’t make sense to hide anything, or to have a strategy blocking your competitors from using your ideas – it won’t work, so you have to fight by lifting your own technology even higher. But at the end of the day, you need to have a strong brand, and that is certainly a step which Chinese manufacturers need to prove – namely, whether they are able to create premium brands on a worldwide level. We will see!
AC: Finally, assuming your company’s continued healthy growth, when is BMW Motorrad going to crack the 250,000 bike annual production barrier?
MS: Alan, you know that I’m always saying that we are working for sustainable goals, but if you do the math, it took us 100 years to produce 200,000 bikes in a single year, so it should be another 25 years to make a quarter of a million! Or maybe less....!
AC: You've now reached the retirement age for BMW executives, so will be stepping down shortly. How would you like to be remembered by future BMW historians?
MS: To be honest, I'm not really worried much about what they might say about my time at BMW Motorrad. Above all, I am very proud and happy to have contributed my part to BMW Motorrad's great 100-year success story!
A man needing no introduction, Alan Cathcart has ridden motorcycles since age 14, but first raced cars before swapping to bikes in 1973. During his 25-year racing career he’s won or been near the top in countless international races, riding some of the most revered motorcycles in history. In addition to his racing resume, Alan’s frequently requested by many leading motorcycle manufacturers to evaluate and comment on their significant new models before launch, and his detailed feature articles have been published across the globe. Alan was the only journalist permitted by all major factories in Japan and Europe to test ride their works Grand Prix and World Superbike machines from 1983 to 2008 (MotoGP) and 1988 to 2015 (World Superbike). Winner of the Guild of Motoring Writers ‘Pierre Dreyfus Award’ twice as Journalist of the Year covering both cars and bikes, Alan is also a six-time winner of the Guild’s ‘Rootes Gold Cup’ in recognition of outstanding achievement in the world of Motorsport. Finally, he’s also won the Guild’s Aston Martin Trophy in 2002 for outstanding achievement in International Journalism. Born in Wales, married to Stella, and father to three children (2 sons, 1 daughter), Alan lives in southern England half an hour north of Chichester, the venue for the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival events. He enjoys classic cars and bikes, travel, films, country rock music, wine - and good food.
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