We get it, BMW: You think your history is uncool


CES is happening at the moment, in Las Vegas. Once known as the Consumer Electronics Show, it’s the tech industry’s biggest event of the year. In the past, the event has debuted everything from the first home video-cassette recorder to the CD player, the first Microsoft Xbox, and numerous smartphones.

Over the last ten years, CES has also become a major event for carmakers. As infotainment and connectivity continue to flood the automotive world, CES has become as likely to debut a new concept car as any major international auto show. BMW is in Las Vegas again this year, with a concept called the i Vision Dee. The name doesn’t quite have the same ring as “M3 Sport Evolution” or “Z1,” but that’s maybe part of the point. After all, BMW appears to have decided that its old cars are now totally uncool.

We began to get this sense back in 2021, when the German carmaker released its “A story of generations” video. In that excruciating baby-boomer-versus-Gen-Z Kopf an Kopf, an E65 7-series and an iX electric SUV argue about iDrive, connectivity, and the merits of fossil fuels.

Did it matter that the 760Li shown was voiced like a crotchety old man despite then being, at most, 16 years old? No. As the car itself said in the video, it’s all “marketing bull***t.” You may also recall that this video was released around the same time as BMW’s similarly excruciating “OK Boomer” Twitter gaffe, a promotion for the very same iX. The latter case implied that anyone who found the SUV hideous was simply unwilling to accept change—instead of, say, possessing a working pair of eyes. (BMW, or rather its red-faced Twitter team, walked things back only a few days later with a wishy-washy apology.)

In the first days of 2023, the brand has hit the ground running, releasing another ad that takes a dig at the past. The message this time comes through the unlikely combined prism of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a motion-capture suit, a cameo by David Hasselhoff and KITT, and the aforementioned Vision Dee lurking in the shadows.

The spot holds too much to describe here, so we’d suggest giving it a watch, particularly if you’ve got an itchy chin. You’ll get in a good seven minutes of scratching time—the complete length of the video—as you wonder what on earth is going on. The basic premise: Arnie is kicking around the idea of a traditional first-love story, with a car, an E21-generation (1977–83) 3-series, as hook.

Vision Dee, naturally, thinks both tale and transport are too old-fashioned. But also that the story should hold more tech, because, as with the iX, that’s apparently all that talking cars know of our world.

Or something. Look, it’s complicated, and frankly, I watched that video mostly nodding along as Arnie spoke, as I suspect most of you would. Why would one want to corrupt the simple joys of driving with . . . changing the color of your paintwork? That seems to be Vision Dee’s other big thing, for the record. That, and not being too concerned with the tedious task of driving.

By this logic, if you choose the E21, you risk the thing breaking down, smoke billowing from the exhaust, or maybe having the dashboard chew up your favorite A-ha cassette. I’m sure the passionate enthusiasts at BMW’s Classic division are glad for the exposure, but I wonder how they feel about one of the company’s most significant models—the first 3-series—being lampooned as a clunky old nail.

It’s all tongue-in-cheek, of course, and there’s the same twee, kiss-and-make-up ending as in “A story of generations.” And in fairness, BMW’s extensive collection of heritage models—and the carmaker’s willingness to show, drive, and display those cars—is proof that some within the company are still proud of their history.

Regardless, if the best that BMW’s marketing agents can do to promote the brand’s future technology is to make the older cars look a bit crap, then one of those enthusiasts in Munich would do well to give those agents a nudge. To remind them that BMW wouldn’t be where it is were it not for how the brand once approached driving and emotion.

Those vintage cars are uncool, sure, if all you’re interested in is mood lighting and a windshield like a giant iPad. But that ignores the fact that the E21 helped define how the next few decades of BMWs looked and drove, or how the E65 introduced much of the tech upon which subsequent models have expanded. That stuff really resonated with people around the world.

All this marketing fluff has buried the lede on the BMW i Vision Dee; given what we can assume from the concept’s proportions and size, the car is what you might call a “proper BMW”—a relatively compact four-door with a true Hofmeister kink. It’s also the first BMW concept in a hot minute that hasn’t required viewing through a mirror, lest you be turned to stone. (Even the grille looks better than the company’s recent efforts.)

Last but not least, Munich is using the term “Neue Klasse” to describe the Vision Dee, or “new class.” The same phrase it used for the family of cars that helped the marque crawl out of near-bankruptcy in the 1960s. Make of that what you will.

Clearly, I’d still be happier driving along in that old 3-series, enjoying the ride as-is. Machines like that still matter, and there’s still room for them in the new-car market. But maybe we simply have to accept that BMW, as it exists now, simply finds us—and the tens of thousands around the world who still drive old 2002s and M3s—just plain uncool.

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Via Hagerty UK

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    I agree totally with you TG.
    I need a replacement SUV and I search BMW max 2012.
    Quite honestly I feel they peeked with the N52 motor with the ZF transmission. Not very excited with the turbo oil users.

    I owned a 79 320i for 17 years and own a 96 850ci and a 16 428i, really dismayed how BMW has forgotten the earlier icons, in their 100 year of BMW book the first 8 series is not even mentioned, love the 428i and it will be my last new BMW.

    Great Article. I’ve owned BMWs in the past, and may purchase one again, but it will be 40 years old or so, when they were “The ultimate driving machine” It’s depressing today how they’ve lost their way.

    Another publication, one that rhymes with Toad and Snack, recently published an article titled “It’s Time to Face the Facts: We Aren’t BMW’s Target Market Anymore.” You can Google it, but the gist is in the title. BMW today is about efficiency and technology, seemingly above all else. Those aren’t bad things – I love my iPhone and can’t live without internet – but they become… less than optimal attributes when you take away most of the enthusiast goodness that was (roughly) pre-2012 BMW*.

    *When viewed through rose-tinted, 20/20-hindsight goggles.

    “A digital soul that thinks and talks and is really, really, really helpful.”
    Just not really real…..
    What total marketing dreck and drivel, complete trash. Why is BMW so obsessed with alienating its enthusiast base for anything older than 10 yrs.?
    I own an ’83 E21 that is sitting in my garage and is a complete gem, and it would be a cold day in h*** before I would give it up to drive this Tron-mobile that changes colors as I go, I wouldn’t consider that modern technology, just the 80’s mood ring applied to car finishes. And to be my “digital companion” because I can’t make actual human friends in the real world, so it will make me feel better about myself?
    Ironically, the E21 that is trashed in the video has apparently been used as the design impetus for the Tron-mobile, similar design cues.
    C’mon BMW, you used to be capable of such of building such good cars…….

    Who knows what the hell BMW was thinking. To me – a long time bmw guy and supporter (currently have three in the stable, including an M5 – a new one (AWD) – I specifically try NOT to see what propaganda they are putting out, as it is usually baffling and frankly, embarrassing. Not sure of the Who, What, or Why of BMW “marketing”, but there is a certain company out there that makes EVs and has never done any advertising. No marketing at all. When you are putting out the sh1t marketing BMW has, maybe it is time to take all that money they paid Arnold and put it into the front end design of their newer models….

    Nice to see BMW catching up with Audi in selling out the ICE. Audi sold out the dirty ICE car in the 2020 Super Bowl ad “Let it Be” At least they used old American V8’s polluting the streets instead of Quattros . If I ignore the EV political correctness I actually enjoyed the BMW piece. Sure wish we could skip this whole EV generation of cars and move right to hydrogen fuel cells.

    i’ve owned several 3 series over the last 20 years or so. 1991, 1997, 2001 and currently a 2011. with each model change the cars got a bit bigger and annoyingly more complicated. my current 2011 being the worst. a small ist of complaints. no spare tire, no dipstick, inaccessable fuse box, riduculously complicated air filter access. if the battery gets low the computer goes haywire. i could go on but won’t. in some ways my 1965 corvair is more trustworthy

    I had never owned a BMW in my 40+ years of driving, but bought an older Z3 for my wife’s retirement and we absolutely love the analog feel of the car. So refreshing to have gauges and the feeling of driving being enjoyable!

    Read this if you dare! I have to laugh.
    Wow, I am an original owner of a 1983 E21 in pristine condition and I just wrote a scathing editorial here because of how history has treated the 320i, but to my better judgement I deleted it. I will say that the folks out there that make the decisions today seem to be doing so either in a vacuum or at the behest of environmental groups and I believe it is all futile. Electric cars will solve nothing and the climate of our good planet will adjust and the temperature concerns that have been changing since the end of the last Ice Age will continue until the beginning of the next Ice Age, which in my estimation is worse than rising oceans, the members of these future environmental groups will scramble to stop the climate from getting colder. And they talk of science like Al Gore, who claims he invented the Internet. See what happens when you get people started. Oh, I almost forgot – don’t tell these groups that the Moon is actually pulling away from the Earth at the rate of about an inch-and-a-half a year – holy crap! What will they do about that????

    My wife & I owned an E21 for many years and I loved the car. I own an E30 325is now and like the car. I’ve owned a bunch of BMW motorcycles over the last 30 years. But I will never buy another one. They are porky, overly complex and difficult to service. Some newer BMWs must have their computers re-programmed by the dealer if the battery is disconnected. BMW no longer builds cars for enthusiasts. They lost their way in the early 1990’s. But in the 1970’s & ’80’s, the company made some truly great cars & motorcycles.

    But I get it. Climate change is a huge crisis facing the planet. Hopefully some day when we all have to drive electric cars that there will still be a few that are fun to own. They probably wouldn’t be BMWs.

    Last decent bummer I owned was a 91 e30. Since then, too complex, too pricey, and not enough fun. My 2002 and my 318is never stranded me and I didn’t have the ugly Bangle butt, which was the beginning of the end design-wise. I went to MINI and never looked back. Al through they are suffering from size creep and tech bloat as well. Who knows what the next enthusiasts care will be in the electric age? Won’t be these things, for sure.

    I own a 2006 M Roadster and love it! The fact that BWW isn’t making gems like that any more makes every moment driving twisty roads, feeling it, hearing that beautiful engine, living in the moment…that much more special. And no, the Z4’s they’re making now just aren’t the same beast at all.
    I don’t pay much attention to BWW or, for that matter, any manufacturer marketing. Their focus is spinning straw into gold while mine is driving – two entirely different things.

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