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Last week I had the privilege of spending some time with Stephen Zoepf, behind the wheel of a 135i equipped with many of the latest offerings from BMW Performance. Stephen is the Accessory Development Manager – Performance, at BMW of North America. Aside from the wonderful car I was able to experience, Stephen helped shed some light on the BMW Performance program in general.
Since it is hard to conduct a full interview from behind the wheel of a car with an intoxicating exhaust, some of this information may be paraphrased. Enjoy!
BimmerFile: Can you tell me a little about yourself and how you became involved with BMW Performance?
Stephen Zoepf: I was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1979 and graduated from MIT in 2001 with a degree in electrical engineering. As a product development engineer with the Ford Motor Company, I acquired my taste for performance tuning as a member of the Ford Focus SVT development team. Started with BMWNA in 2004 as an accessory development engineer, and in 2007 began my position within BMW Performance.
BF: What is the premise behind BMW Performance?
SZ: BMW Performance was originally conceptualized for the US market, where tuning and car modification is very personal and individualized. In the EU many aftermarket manufacturers focus on whole cars rather than individual components (ALPINA etc.), as that is what the buying public has asked for, though things are beginning to change.
BF: So BMW Performance caters more towards the US market?
SZ: Not necessarily. While based out of the US, BMW Performance offers products for a global market. The US may be the largest single market for BMWs but it only accounts for a percentage of total sales.
BF: Who is in charge of R&D of BMW Performance? Is ///M involved?
SZ: The items are designed and tested in Germany as part of BMW AG. While ///M is not directly involved it serves a role and recently has begun to share some of its expertise and developments within other areas of the BMW Group (including BMW Performance).
BF: Can you elaborate more on ///M sharing some of its goodies?
SZ: You will find that the ///M division has contributed to several non-///M models in terms of research, development and final product. The new Z4 is a prime example; the Adaptive M Suspension is an ///M creation and available as an option. You will begin to see more examples of this in future brand offerings.
BF: What makes BMW Performance different from other tuning companies?
SZ: BMW Performance has the advantage of being able to design performance parts at the same time as the standard parts are being designed. Fitment and structure are not compromised because of this. We do not reverse engineer; we engineer from the start. We take the individual car’s options into consideration as well as making sure the reliability is just as good as a standard part.
The Performance Steering Wheel, for example, utilizes the car’s on board control units to provide the necessary information via the car’s “bus”. An aftermarket company could not offer such a part without additional hardware or installation difficulties.
BF: How do the parts affect the car’s warranty or maintenance plan?
SZ: This is another area we differ from other tuners. We offer a factory warranty on all parts for a minimum of 2 years or 24,000 miles. If the part is installed at the dealer it is covered for the remainder of the new vehicle warranty in months/miles or the 2 years/ 24,000.
What many do not realize is that BMW Performance parts also qualify for coverage under the Maintenance Program (condition based service). If you purchase an intake, a brake kit (etc.) for a 128i and your car is due for service, the correct air filter or pads/rotors would be replaced as indicated with no charge. It is treated the same as a standard BMW for 4 years or 50,000 miles.
BF: Many BMW drivers choose to lease their cars for one reason or another; is it possible to lease a BMW and have BMW Performance parts installed?
SZ: We are working with BMW Financial Services to residualize some items. Currently, the aero kit and wheels can be residualized for a portion of the cost. In the future we hope to expand upon this.
BF: What happened to those gorgeous seats our readers were drooling over?
SZ: We would have loved to offer those seats as part of the BMW Performance line to US customers but it was not to be. In order for those seats to be legal for sale in the US, they would have had to pass crash testing (about 8 tests) and the passenger seat would have needed to be redesigned, incorporating a passenger occupancy mat. The testing would have made the cost per seat well above what customers would be willing to pay for such an accessory.
BF: After the Geneva Auto Show we learned that the European market would be receiving an engine kit that would increase the output of the N54 twin turbo motor. When will the US receive this kit?
SZ: We expect to release the same tuning kit in the US market later this year, which will upgrade both the output and cooling capacity of the N54 engine, although the details are still being finalized.
BF: Why only the specific increases in output with the Engine Kit, as many other tuners are offering significantly more performance?
SZ: As I mentioned earlier, BMW Performance takes reliability and longevity into consideration when designing parts. We could have increased the performance more but may have compromised the remainder of the car’s components, especially the drive train. The current transmissions and differentials are designed for a specific output range, going beyond that increases the risk of component failure.
BF: With BMW selling mostly diesel cars in the EU, why not offer a tuning upgrade for diesel engines?
SZ: We are considering all options at this time and have not ruled out performance upgrades for diesel models.
BF: While we are fans of the current product offerings, we wonder if more track-oriented or “hardcore” items would become available for enthusiasts from BMW Performance.
SZ: BMW Performance will not be offering items specifically geared towards competition. However, that is where the soon-to-launch BMW Motorsport division will step in.
BF: BMW Motorsport?
SZ: Yes, BMW Motorsport will soon, through a select dealer network, sell racing components. Enthusiasts will be able to order parts designed by BMW Motorsport for BMWs to be used in racing, from bodies in white, to higher-capacity brake pads for an E90 ///M3. We expect to support most BMWs currently available to racers with additional parts.
BF: That is great news for all those interested in tracking their car or competing in a racing series! Having parts available directly from BMW will alleviate some concerns with fitment and other variables… sign me up for some ///M3 track pads!
SZ: In the coming months we hope to have this program fully established.
BF: I thank you for your time, but one final question: Are the rumors true that BMW will be launching factory built BMW Performance cars similar to the John Cooper Works Minis?
SZ: I really cannot comment on any future possible production cars at this time, though it has been a pleasure sharing more about BMW Performance with you.