BMW follows Ford in looking for auto show alternatives

Events such as NextGen are a better format than auto shows because they more intense with more dialogue, says BMW’s chief technical officer, Klaus Froelich.

BMW has joined Ford in creating media events that try to deliver messages that go beyond a product launch and recognize the fading communication strength of traditional auto shows.

On June 25, BMW gathered over 400 people — media, influencers and financial analysts — in its BMW Welt brand experience center in Munich to unveil many new products and provide an update on its electrification, autonomous-driving and connected-car programs.

The event, called NextGen, is similar in format to Ford’s Go Further, a communication strategy that the U.S. automaker’s European division started in Amsterdam in September 2012 to unveil the new Mondeo midsize sedan.

Since then, Ford has skipped several key European auto shows, replicating Go Further events in Barcelona in November 2013 to unveil the new Mustang sports car, then in Cologne in November 2016 to unveil the new Fiesta small car and this past April, again in Amsterdam, to unveil the new Kuga small SUV, preview the new Puma small SUV and provide an update on electrification.

BMW’s chief technical officer, Klaus Froelich, said NextGen is a “better format than motor shows, more intense, more dialogue.”

During NextGen, BMW for the first time showed six models; the 8 series Gran Coupe, M8 coupe and M8 cabrio, the new 1 series five-door hatch, the 3 series Touring wagon and revamped X1 compact SUV. But all these debuts were overshadowed by another animal not previewed before.

The Vision M Next concept is a glimpse of future M top models, combining performance — 600 hp — with a plug-in hybrid powertrain permitting up to 100 km of zero-emission driving.

The head of sales and marketing for the BMW brand, Peter Nota, was not particularly worried that the Vision M Next could have overshadowed other model debuts: “What is important is that the world talks of BMW,” he told me.

At the Munich event, I ran into Arndt Ellinghorst, a financial analyst at Evercore ISI in London, who said that he was impressed by the size of NextGen and that he sees how these types of events will replace auto shows over time, offering benefits in content, exclusivity and cost.

BMW said it has not decided the frequency of its NextGen events — Ford lately has switched to a three-year cadence for its Go Furthers — but does not consider this being a one-off.

My take? Mixed.

Events like this permit a deep dive into an automaker’s strategy that goes well beyond a product launch. These events also clearly show that some automakers want to build their own communication silos where they play their own music, without any external distraction.

While I completely understand this view from the automaker’s side, I think the role of traditional auto shows should not be downplayed.

Even if suffering, traditional shows remain the perfect place to see and talk with automakers and to generate a broader and more diverse view of the complete picture. And this is what really matters to me.