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We speak to BMW Group Asia Managing Director Christopher Wehner to discuss the changing automotive industry and his expectations for BMW in Singapore.

07 Jan 2019

BWM Group Asia's new Managing Director, Christopher Wehner (CW), takes over the helm at a time on significant industrial change. We took the opportunity to speak to him to discuss his expectations for the brand, the industry, and the importance of creating cars with distinct character.

Mr. Christopher Wehner took up the post of Managing Director of BMW Group Asia on 1 August 2018
SGCM: 2018 has been a big year for BMW, with a big product offensive and numerous new models launched, including brand new offerings like the 8 Series and X7. How would you evaluate 2018 for BMW, and what are your expectations come 2019?

CW: Despite the political and economic challenges and extremely competitive conditions, the BMW Group was able to increase sales in the first three quarters of 2018.

BMW deliveries were higher both in October and the year to date (October). The company seeks to retain a leading position in the global premium segment in 2018.

For 2019, the BMW Group will continue to prepare for technological shifts in the mobility services market, as well as potential economic and political challenges, in order to ensure continued growth and sustained high profitability.

2018 saw the global launch of numerous new models, including the new BMW 8 Series
SGCM: What do you see as some of your key challenges in dealing with the Singapore automotive market, as well as the Asia region in general?

CW: I am personally responsible for eight out of 10 ASEAN markets in addition to select importer markets in the Pacific Islands (Guam, New Caledonia and Tahiti) and two markets in South Asia (Sri Lanka and Bangladesh).

Each of these markets boasts a different consumer buying culture and vibrant political and economic environment that is constantly changing. The biggest challenge is staying one-step ahead and working closely with governments and corporations to understand how to respond to constant fluctuations in the market.

In Singapore, for example, whether it be fluctuating COEs, the encouragement to de-register vehicles after 10 years, or the new Vehicle Emissions Scheme, we need to be agile and prepare for what may happen. In order for this to work, we need to keep an open line of communication with key members of the LTA and EDB to continue improving individual mobility and fulfil our customers' requirements.

Mr. Wehner sees Singapore as a key driver of regional growth in the premium consumer class
SGCM: It appears that Singapore is a key market for BMW Asia. For example, we got a surprisingly early glimpse of the new Z4 just one day after its premiere at Pebble Beach. Can you speak to the importance of Singapore as a market? 

CW: From a Corporate perspective, Singapore has been the headquarters for the Asia Pacific region since January 2018. In addition to Ms. Hildegard Wortmann, who is responsible for the Asia Pacific region, the Regional CEO for BMW Financial Services and the Head of BMW Asia Pacific IT are based in Singapore.

The Economist Intelligence Unit expects Asia's premium consumer class to grow from $217m in 2015 to $492m in 2025. I believe that Singapore will drive a large portion of this growth, and as a result, the desire for premium luxury goods and services will increase in the market.

There is a lot of potential for growth for BMW in Singapore, but this will hinge on a variety of factors such as the evolving global political landscape, changing legislation in regard to electric vehicles and PHEVs as well as the advancement and adoption of new personal and urban mobility services.

In Singapore, adoption of electrified vehicles have been slow but steady, and BMW are looking to put more such vehicles on the road
SGCM: BMW has been pushing the iPerformance range throughout the past year. How has the response been like? Moving forward, what percentage of cars sold do you expect to be from the iPerformance range?

CW: Deliveries globally are up over 40% year-to-date, and we remain well on track to achieve our target of 140,000 electrified sales by the end of 2018. In 2025, electrified vehicles will account for 15% to 20% of our sales globally.

In Singapore, adoption has been slow but steady. However, we hope to put our 300th electrified vehicle on the road by the end of 2018, and this is a great milestone. We believe that more customers will begin to explore electrified vehicles as the infrastructure continues to grow and as we bring additional electrified models to the market.  

The consolidation of the BMW M dealership under Performance Motors has resulted in a 50% increase in sales last year
SGCM: It has been a while since the BMW M dealership has been consolidated under Performance Motors. Is there any notable improvement in terms of sales, customer service, and response from customers?

CW: Customer feedback has been positive in terms of brand experience at the Performance Munich Auto’s showroom. The BMW Individual Lounge with the availability of leather, equipment and car configurators, as well as the Delivery Suite, give customers an authentic and luxurious BMW M experience.

Now that the location of the BMW M dealership is more central and convenient, customers have visited the dealership more often and stay for longer periods. We are pleased to announce that sales grew 50% year-on-year as a result of this dealership consolidation exercise.

The Z4 project is a perfect exmaple of how two brands can collaoborate while sharing the same objective and passion
SGCM: We are noticing an increasing trend of manufacturers working together to develop new models, with BMW’s collaborating with Toyota on the new Z4/Supra being a case in point. We also understand that you were personally involved in the development of the Z4. Do you see this trend of manufacturers working together growing in the future?

CW: The BMW Group is always open to collaborations where all parties stand to benefit. The roadster segment is small.

Therefore, the company found that it made business sense to work with a like-minded partner on the efficient development of a car for higher volume output.

Our work with Toyota on the Z4 project is a perfect example of how two brands with the same objective and passion, came together constructively to develop the best sports car. I think such collaborations will be the trend moving forward. Due to the high investment costs in electrification, autonomous driving and digitalisation, partners can benefit from knowledge and cost sharing.

Key to BMW's success is to ensure that each car within its model lineup has a clear and distinct character
SGCM: This new Z4 returns to its roots with a regular soft-top. Will we see a hard-top version down the road?

CW: Our objective was to develop the BMW Z4 as a true sports car for BMW. This was the reason why the BMW Z4 now has a soft top, which saves weight and lowers its centre of gravity.

Given what we are trying to achieve with the car, I do not foresee that there will be a hard top version.

SGCM: Obviously, terms like '50:50 weight distribution' and 'double-joint spring strut axle' make us a little fizzy inside, but we recognise that the market is steadily trending in a different direction. With the emphasis on technology, electrification and autonomy, will cars like the Z4 still have a place in BMW's lineup? At the same time, how do you see BMW approaching this potentially widening divide between enthusiasts and 'typical' drivers? 

CW: In order to fulfil the differing needs of our customers, we will continue to offer a wide range of products within our portfolio that deliver the experience that they have come to love. Importantly, each car in our portfolio has its own unique character.

Take the BMW Z4 for example, a key model for us and it possesses all the attributes that the brand stands for - stunning design, thrilling driving experience and innovative technology. It has an edgy design and possesses superior driving dynamics. To achieve the look that we wanted and deliver excitement behind the wheel, we focused on the proportions of the car and its perfect weight distribution. The all new BMW Z4 is a very bold statement indeed! 

Moving forward, Mr. Wehner says that BMW must provide customers with the right products and services, and to create thrilling and luxurious experiences
SGCM: Moving forward, what do you expect from the BMW brand globally, as well as here in the Asia region? Are there key goals that you have in mind?

CW: BMW is an innovative brand that actively shapes the future. We understand our customers' needs and strive to provide them with the right products and services and to create thrilling and luxurious experiences. The markets covered by BMW Group Asia are diverse and the potential for growth in key markets such as Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia are immense.

In order to be successful in these markets, we need to focus on the customer and work closely with our dealers and importers to leverage their expertise and experience in the region.

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