Interviewed by Sarwant Singh, Managing Partner and Regional Leader, Frost & Sullivan – Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) & Global Head – Mobility and Aerospace, Defense & Security Practice
BMW Motorrad will celebrate its centenary as a motorcycle manufacturer in 2023. Over the decades, it has built up an enviable reputation for design excellence and technology innovation. Spurred by its brand motto—Make Life A Ride—it has consistently welded together outstanding form and function with strong undercurrents of fun. How is the company, which manufactures both motorcycles and scooters, approaching the future? What elements of autonomous, connected, electric, and shared (ACES) technologies is it looking to advance? Which new geographic markets, product segments, and customer groups will it target to sustain growth? To learn about all this and much more, Sarwant Singh interviewed the man tasked with steering BMW Motorrad into the future, CEO Dr. Markus Schramm.
What has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on bike sales?
We had a great start to the New Year and were still up almost 12% on the previous year at the end of February 2020. Then the COVID-19 pandemic began to have a negative impact on the demand for motorcycles. But the BMW Motorrad team is doing everything it can to respond to the needs of our customers. The clear objective is to finish 2020 successfully in a difficult market environment but with significantly reduced sales compared to our record year in 2019.
What strategies are you evaluating to sustain growth?
To achieve further growth, it is important that BMW Motorrad’s current leading role, especially in the areas of innovation leadership, dynamics, and the future of motorcycling, is strengthened. We will continue to expand existing segments and enter new segments with exciting new products. Our upcoming entry into the cruiser segment with the BMW R 18 is a perfect example of this. My clear goal is: we want to become number one!
Has your strategy of entering the sub-500cc segment paid off in terms of being able to expand your customer base?
This strategy has worked out perfectly, and we are very well-positioned with the 310 models, G 310 GS and G 310 R for the entry-level segment. The results are impressive: almost 19,000 customers opted for these models last year. The 310 GS even took third place in 2019 among our best-selling models.
You had a target of increasing retail touchpoints from about 1,100 in 2015 to about 1,500 by 2020. How successful has this retail expansion strategy been?
It is not the pure number of retail touchpoints but their quality and profitability that are decisive. Currently, we have over 1,350 retail partners and have been able to continuously expand our share in markets such as China and Brazil in recent years on the basis of our retail expansion strategy.
In terms of growth, which markets will be central to your retail expansion strategy in this decade?
No other motorcycle manufacturer in the world offers such a wide range of models as we do. Of course, we have our sights set on the American market with its highly interesting cruiser segment. Our BMW R 18 will play an important role here. I also see great potential for growth in the Chinese market.
What is your opinion on the resurgence of scooters? Do you think they pose a threat to motorcycles?
We already offer our customers both motorcycles and scooters. I firmly believe that motorcycles and scooters will continue to coexist in the future, with the topic of urban electro-mobility becoming more prevalent among scooters driven in urban environments than among our motorcycles that are used primarily for leisure activities.
What connected bike features do you see appearing in the market in the future?
Connectivity, assistance systems, and the availability of digital services are becoming increasingly important in motorcycling. Features such as our e-Call or our “Connectivity” offer are already an integral part of many of our models today. And we are definitely planning to expand our range of products significantly in the area of intelligent connected motorcycles. The aim here is to make motorcycling more experience-oriented, more comfortable and also safer.
Are connected bikes and connected helmets feasible ideas?
In many of our current models, connectivity, i.e., the possibility of connecting the rider and the motorcycle via the helmet, is already standard equipment. The take rate for models with the connectivity offer as an option is, on average, around 80%. In addition, we were able to hand over around 17,000 of our helmet communication systems to customers in 2019.
As a core member of the Connected Motorbike Consortium (CMC), what is your V2X strategy for connected bikes?
Motorcycles will never ride autonomously, but in a future world of autonomously driving cars, the possibility of being connected will be an urgent requirement for making motorcycling future-proof. That is why we founded the CMC together with HONDA and YAMAHA, which many other brands have since joined. Particularly in the area of safety, we want to take a big step forward through connectivity; for example, when it comes to avoiding collisions, warning of dangerous situations, and similar options.
Is the strategy for connectivity on connected bikes similar to BMW’s PV platform?
In terms of strategic goals, BMW Motorrad is in line with the BMW Group’s digitalization strategy. In terms of the product offer, major differences exist. While e-Call systems are commonplace in cars and legally required in many countries, BMW Motorrad is still the only motorcycle manufacturer offering an e-Call system ex-factory. With the typical motorcycle customer in mind, the BMW Motorrad Connected app strongly focuses on providing assistance in motorcycle-related experiences. Therefore, the app serves for motorcycle-optimized route planning, displays navigation information directly in the bike’s TFT display, and records tours and riding performance statistics such as lean angles, acceleration and deceleration forces, or altitude profiles.
What is BMW’s electric bikes vision and strategy?
With the C evolution, BMW Motorrad has been an active pioneer and will continue to lead the area of electric mobility. We have already shown what we think an e-Power Roadster should look like with our Vision DC Roadster. For me, it’s quite clear: electro-mobility will be very significant for the future of motorcycling. And we are fortunately in the unique situation of being able to draw on the BMW Group’s great expertise in the field of electric mobility. Especially in the field of urban mobility, I see upcoming products with a focus on electric propulsion. And I’m not only thinking of classic scooters here but also of alternative modern, emotional products. Electro-mobility on two wheels must be really fun! And we will come up with corresponding product offers.
BMW has been a pioneer in driving innovation with regard to autonomy with concepts like self-balancing, self-park and summon features. What is your perspective on the role of autonomous driving and features in an industry that is heavily driven by motor-muscle connection?
As already mentioned, in a future world of autonomously driving passenger cars, the connectivity of motorcycles will also be a requirement for making motorcycling future-proof and for increased safety while riding a motorcycle. And this affects every motorcycle segment. Motorcycles themselves will never ride autonomously, it just doesn’t make sense. But we will use the technologies of autonomous driving in a concrete way: to raise safety levels and also to take the fun in riding to a new level.
Where do you see the future of leisure/adventure biking? Do you think electric bikes have a role to play here?
In the near future, BMW Motorrad will be offering new all-electric products. Initially, we will focus on mobility solutions in the urban environment. Electrifying other segments is clearly the next step. And here our claim is to play the leading role not only on the topic of range but also on the subject of speeding up the battery charging time and design. Our Vision DC Roadster shows how we see emotional, inspiring, and authentic e-mobility in the motorcycle sector.
Do you see new customer groups for BMW bikes as opposed to your legacy customer base?
Yes, absolutely. The overall aim of our brand approach—Make Life a Ride—is to attract new customers across diverse age groups and to generate enthusiasm for motorcycling worldwide. The point is to address not only real bikers but also people who currently don’t ride a motorcycle, who maybe will one day. Make Life a Ride is not limited to a particular product but focuses on people and emotions in the motorcycling space.
Barring a recent partnership with eCooltra in Barcelona, BMW Motorrad has not specifically focused on the shared mobility space. Given that growth is expected in bike-sharing and other last-mile mobility options post-COVID, do you have any plans of expanding into this space?
When it comes to sharing, we see that society today is not always able to handle other people’s property as carefully as it does its own. This is the biggest challenge in this area. But with our mobility joint venture, we have the best platform to react quickly. And we have launched our own platform with “Rent a Ride.” Here you can already book almost any BMW motorcycle very flexibly in many countries.
BMW Motorrad will be celebrating its centenary as a motorcycle manufacturer in 2023. What new milestones would you like to achieve, both in terms of yourself as a leader and for the company?
My goal for the coming years is clear: to become number one in the premium motorcycle market. And I will achieve this goal together with my great team at BMW Motorrad.
How has your leadership style evolved since you took over as CEO?
As a passionate motorcycle rider, I have always had a special relationship with BMW Motorrad. For me, a professional dream came true when I took over the management of BMW Motorrad. Even though I have long since found my leadership style after gaining experience in various top management functions in the BMW Group, I still approach things at Motorrad with a special passion just like the whole BMW Motorrad team.
You’re a passionate motorcyclist. What is your favorite bike?
I can’t commit to just one. I have a certain preference for sporty motorcycles and for naked bikes. That’s why I especially like our S 1000 RR and the S 1000 R from the current range. Since I am also a big Boxer engine fan, I also like the GS Adventure very much. At the moment, I am most looking forward to our BMW R 18.
And, finally, you are a keen marathoner, part of the elite Marathon Grand Slam Club, and you have done an unbelievably challenging run in Antarctica. What next?
Yeah, I’ve done some really extreme runs. My 100 km ultra-marathon in the Antarctic was an incredible experience. At the moment I have no concrete plans, but I will certainly be attracted by a new challenge.