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BMW Welt

They don’t it by half here in Munich. The new BMW Welt (BMW World) is a €250 million testament to BMW’s belief in its brand—and the role that Munich will play in its future. It’s also evidence that the creative economy is so real it can command almost half a billion Kiwi dollars from a manufacturing company.

I attended the opening and collected some pictures and thoughts to share. I’m sorry if you’ve already seen them on the web. I’ve been out of web contact for a few days.

The giant structure is big enough to park an Airbus 380 inside and acts as a showcase of BMW technology, cars, brand and is also a major function centre. It’s also the central point for customers from anywhere in the world to collect their new BMWs. They expect to host 850,000 people in one year for concerts, seminars, educational trips for kids and about 45,000 new car customers.

The design is by Austrian architecture coop Himmelblau, led by one Professor Wolf D Prix. Pronounced Pricks. He’s renowned for embracing the computational power of CAD and creating organic shapes that cost millions, drive engineers nuts and look really, really cool. The roof is supposed to emulate a cloud and is held by just 11 pillars. It’s truly awesome inside with untold light and space. The roof is largely photovoltaic panels with openings for ventilation. As a result, the heating is 30% of what a building that size would normally have cost.

There’s a ton of info at the BMW Welt site so I won’t repeat what’s there.

What does it all mean?

Well, the investment by BMW is massive and they’ll need to sell a bunch of cars to even just recoup the cost. It’s not a factory nor an R&D centre so there are no tech advances or cost savings coming from it. Down the road, the Audi people are alternatively sniggering at the cost and nervous at the chuzpa BMW has shown. Tearing through the German corporate speak (you can read the official stuff here), I think Welt is an acknowledgement that products alone are insufficient for creating ongoing demand. If all cars function and if there are so many of them and if they pretty much cost the same, then what reason do we have being loyal to a brand? BMW Welt is a bold, and risky, investment in intangibles that just might make us think ourselves as ‘BMW people’.

Welt interiorWelt interior

It wants to encourage tribal loyalty by dragging people into its Welt, which consists of groundbreaking architecture, an awesome and emotional new customer experience, high art and culture, children’s workshops and fine cuisine. Very creative economy behaviour.

The big risk is that Welt is fixed to one location. Spending $500 million to reach 850,000 people (and only a fraction will be customers) is bad economics. Okay so my maths is wonky because next year there will be one million and then 1.2 million and so on. But few people will get the chance to visit Munich and experience BMW Welt in all its glory. How will the company leverage this investment? Will visitors buy into the whole idea of a BMW world? Is it all a bit egocentrc. And anyway, is building a giant edifice really that creative?

It is an amazing accomplishment and heck, they’re Germans, they will have thought about all this already. But I wonder in a wired world whether bricks and motar are the way to create a welt?