Frank van Meel, CEO BMW M GmbH

“EVOKING EMOTION IS MY SIGNATURE.”

An interview with BMW M CEO Franciscus van Meel.

“Evoking emotion is my signature.”An interview with BMW M CEO Franciscus van Meel.

Franciscus ‘Frank’ van Meel is the man behind the most powerful letter in the world. Under his leadership, BMW M GmbH developed the sporty M xDrive all-wheel drive system to production readiness a few years ago. Now the Dutch-born CEO is poised to transform the company for the electric age. And even that won’t rattle the father of six.

BMW M3 Competition Sedan with M xDrive:
Fuel consumption in l/100 km (combined): 10.1-10.0 (WLTP)
CO2 emissions in g/km (combined): 231-228 (WLTP)

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Christina Rahmes: You are both the old and new CEO of BMW M GmbH. In between, you headed the BMW Group’s Total Vehicle Development and were responsible for the luxury class at BMW and for Rolls-Royce. What was the greatest challenge you faced in the past five years?

Frank van Meel: I started at BMW M GmbH in 2015. After just under four years, the BMW Group brought me in. In line with the company’s policy, it’s important not to spend too much time in any one position, but to always move around. This is something the BMW Group both encourages and, in fact, demands. My new responsibilities there were quite challenging. In Total Vehicle Development, the focus is on future vehicle architectures, on subjects such as homologation and approval, but also on crash endurance tests and the strategic management of the E Department, which is driving the transformation to e-mobility. I learned a lot during this time.

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Frank van Meel, CEO BMW M GmbH

© Tim Adler

What do you stand for at BMW M GmbH?

Evoking emotion is my signature.

 

What evokes emotions within the M community?

I have fond memories of my first tenure as CEO of M GmbH. Under my leadership at the time, the company developed the sporty all-wheel drive M xDrive to production readiness. It’s a rear-based system that distributes power perfectly, allowing you to accelerate out of a bend in such a way that you can drift easily. Exactly as you’d expect from a proper M vehicle – with an authentic M feel that evokes emotions.

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How much did you have to fight for this sporty all-wheel drive back then?

I certainly had to overcome some resistance. The allwheel drive with more traction debuted in the M5, which itself was a kind of holy grail for many fans that was thought better left untouched. However, it was important to me to feel the attributes of driving dynamics, agility and precision even in drizzle, on leaves or snow. This is exactly what the community appreciates us for – plenty of traction without sacrificing the sheer driving enjoyment. It takes a superior car to be able to power out of bends on all surfaces. If I can then shift gears myself as the driver, this evokes all kinds of emotions.


Does a manual transmission evoke more emotion than its automatic counterpart?

Our customers like the choice between rear- and allwheel drive as well as manual or automatic transmission. In the United States, for example, almost 55 per cent of all BMW M2s currently on the road have manual transmissions. Customers enjoy sitting in driving a motor vehicle that they can work with. We will try to keep the manual transmission as an option in the future. Our community likes them because it allows them form a bond with the car. Shifting gears yourself evokes emotions and gives many fans an authentic M feeling that reminds them of the brand’s roots: motor sport.

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IF I ONLY DRIVE IN ONE GEAR, THEN I LACK A CERTAIN ACOUSTIC FEEDBACK... SO WE ALSO HAVE TO ANSWER THE QUESTIONOF WHAT THE M WILL SOUND LIKE IN THE FUTURE.
Frank van Meel, CEO BMW M GmbH

How important is motor sport for BMW?

Motor sport is about pushing boundaries, including in technical terms, being a pioneer, going as far as possible. It is, of course, also about measuring yourself against the competition and seeing what your competitors are testing. A company with ‘sheer driving pleasure’ as its slogan will always attach great importance to motor sport.


What would you like to wish M GmbH for its 50th birthday?

An exciting 2022 full of unforgettable celebrations with the entire community. Although the company’s actual birthday is 24 May, as this is the date of its foundation, we will be celebrating it with our fans for 365 days. M has only become so big thanks to this extraordinary community. And it, in turn, grew out of a passion for motor sport. We have always had a close relationship with our fans – and that is exactly what they love about the brand.

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Frank van Meel, CEO BMW M GmbH

© Tim Adler

What will BMW M stand for in ten years’ time? What is the future direction of the brand?

The company’s character will remain the same as it is today. From a technical standpoint, a lot will change, simply because of the transformation into the electric age. We are treading this path courageously and confidently because we know that our values will remain the same. In this context, I like to look back on the evolution of the M3, which came onto the market in the 1980s with four cylinders. Later it was available with a six-cylinder naturally aspirated engine, then as an eight-cylinder high-rev engine and finally with a six-cylinder turbo engine. After each stage of development, plenty of critics said that the M3 would no longer sell. And every time they were wrong, because the character of the vehicle has always remained the same, even with the new engine concepts. In the next ten years, we will certainly offer all M vehicles with electric drive systems, but not exclusively. The process of electrification is happening at different speeds. In our anniversary year, for example, we are launching our first performance plug-in hybrid vehicle. As was the case in the past, this launch is also geared towards fans and customers and the market-specific demand.

 

How exactly will you achieve this transformation into a new age of mobility?

The future will be electric, that is clear – and we are embracing this task. The important question for us is, if an M is always supposed to drive like an M how can we get the M feeling of a conventional vehicle into an electric vehicle? That’s exactly what we want to achieve. This is, to a large extent, about feeling, driving characteristics and sound. If I only drive in one gear, then I lack a certain acoustic feedback as well as the feel for the current driving dynamics. So we also have to answer the question of what M will sound like in the future. Coming from a motor sport background, our answer to this question should be immediately obvious to the community. We have to succeed in giving the driver the right feedback – and with it the typical M feeling.

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IT’S IMPORTANT TO ME THAT EVERYONE STANDS UP FOR THEIR OPINION.
Frank van Meel, CEO BMW M GmbH

What does BMW M do better than the competition?
I’m an admirer of many brands, because each has its own distinct character. We were born out of motor sport with the belief that you can resolve contradictions. When Eberhard von Kuenheim was CEO in the 1970s, he was driven in a BMW 7 Series. His security guards sometimes had problems following him in a BMW 5 Series. The result was the first high-performance BMW 5 Series, tuned up by the Motorsport Department. This led to the discussion of whether you actually have to choose between a sports car and a saloon. And the answer is no, because we can do both. That was and is one of our recipes for success. M has evolved with this close connection between motor sport and mass production. And has retained this character to this day.

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BMW

© Tim Adler

What does luxury mean to you?

Luxury is difficult to describe because it is an emotional concept that needs to be made tangible in the real world. If I treat myself to something that has a history, then that could already constitute luxury. Applied to us, this could be the heritage of a brand upon which every car that comes along is built again and again. Or it’s surprising gadgets and materials in the vehicle that one wouldn’t have expected. An example of particularly expressive luxury is the material mix of carbon and woven bronze threads. After all, this is really something that not every car has.


Who or what inspires you?

I’m inspired by people who think ahead, who see the big picture and tackle challenges far beyond the plainly obvious. Visionaries who also get things done.

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What are you like as a boss?

I’m a big fan of ‘direction first, then speed’. To this end, we first define our long-term strategic goals together as a team. To achieve them, everyone is allowed to make their own contribution and be as creative as possible. I trust my staff and give them a great deal of freedom.

 

What values are important to you, both professionally and personally?

Candour and honesty. However, I also value dissent and demand it from my employees. It’s important to me that everyone stands up for their opinion.

 

What do you like to do at the weekend?

To relax and get my mind off work, I like to spend weekends with my family at the racetrack. I have six children who are crazy about racing. My youngest is six years old and attended the DTM when he was just three. When he was there, he enthusiastically opened and closed the racing cars’ carbon doors and enjoyed the sound of the engines. A weekend of racing is a special experience filled with team spirit and emotion.

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BMW M LOVE.

More exclusive insights and photos of never-before-seen M automobiles are featured in the new book "BMW M Love". Now available at Delius Klasing and Amazon.

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BMW M3 Competition Sedan with M xDrive: Fuel consumption in l/100 km (combined): 10.1-10.0 (WLTP); CO2 emissions in g/km (combined): 230-228 (WLTP)

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  • The models illustrated include optional equipment.

    Official data on power consumption and electric range were determined in accordance with the mandatory measurement procedure and comply with Regulation (EU) 715/2007 valid at the time of type approval. In case of a range, figures in the NEDC take into account differences in the selected wheel and tire size; figures in the WLTP take into account any optional equipment. WLTP values are used for assessing taxes and other vehicle-related charges that are (also) based on CO2 emissions, as well as for the purposes of vehicle-specific subsidies, if applicable. Where applicable, the NEDC values listed were calculated based on the new WLTP measurement procedure and then converted back to the NEDC measurement procedure for comparability reasons. For newly type-tested vehicles since 01.01.2021, the official data no longer exist according to NEDC, but only according to WLTP. For more information on the WLTP and NEDC measurement procedures, see https://www.bmw.com/wltp.

    For further information about the official fuel consumption and the specific CO2 emission of new passenger cars can be taken out of the „handbook of fuel consumption, the CO2 emission and power consumption of new passenger cars“, which is available at all selling points and at https://www.dat.de/co2/.

    All vehicles, equipment, combination possibilities and varieties shown here are examples and can differ in your country. In no way do they constitute a binding offer by the BMW M GmbH. Visit your local BMW website or see your authorised BMW M Retailer for accurate details on the offers in your country.