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.
Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it.