Why the Death of the BMW M Brand May Be Greatly Exaggerated: The Performance M3

The new M3 Lime Rock Edition has created some debate within the enthusiast community. For some it ‘s a well specced M3. But to others it ‘s a bit of a poseur-mobile, especially to Jalopnik and our friend Bill Caswell. Why? It ‘s an M3 right? It comes down to expectations. Those expectations were set in 2003 with the E46 CSL. And that ‘s the problem. Outside of the M3 CRT (of which only 67 were made) there isn ‘t an M3 ever made that really compares favorably to it.

That brings us back to the recently announced M3 LRE. Why does it exist and not a new CSL? As detailed in the last BimmerCast BMW had planned on creating E92 CSL with the engine that ended up in the GTS and CRT as well as a stripped out interior and loads of carbon fiber. However, with the melt-down of the worldwide economy in 2008, the car was unceremoniously cancelled in 2009. Components of it later showed up in the GTS and the CRT but the E92 CSL died at the hands of accountants.

BMWNA has thus had their hands tied. There was an expectation that the E92 CSL would have come to the US and would have filled the gap above the Competition package as the ultimate M car for hardcore enthusiasts. Without it BMWNA has been left to create their own series of well-specced M3s that don ‘t offer greater performance but instead exclusivity.

So why can ‘t BMWNA do more and why has there NEVER been a performance version of the M3 brought stateside? Most do not understand the difficulties of homologating a new engine model or a new feature that impacts safety such as seats into the US market. There are loads of government regulations that must be followed, testing procedures completed and all of that adds enormous costs to a model- heck some models won ‘t even meet the regulations so they can ‘t be brought here.

Big deal right? BMW could of course charge more money. But it depends on what the “more ” is. In the case of bringing the GTS or CRT to the US it would have been hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars depending on what testing needs to be completed. For a limited run car that would make the price ridiculously high and would be difficult to sell. BMWNA is also not in the business of subsidizing limited run cars as a loss leader. It makes little business sense and does not increase sales to other models to justify the costs. That is why we have seen limited editions stateside with window dressing rather than full on performance improvements like the M3 GTS or M3 CRT. There was one exception to this rule of the US not receiving a performance model: the E46 M3 GTR which sold for almost a cool quarter of a million green backs and was necessary to meet homolagtion rules to keep BMWNA and team PTG racing in ALMS (Even at that price the 10 sold units were subsidized by BMW). (Editor: While 3 M3 GTRs were produced none were ever sold).

But you may be thinking, Mercedes is doing it with the “Black ” models and Corvette is doing it as well by offering performance editions. Let ‘s consider the concept that Mercedes uses the “Black ” series cars as part of their marketing strategy for sporty cars. Rather than racing any cars on the continent, MB chooses to subsidize “Blacks ” to make them significantly less expensive than they should be so there are more out there and seem more obtainable- they have a history of this with the Maybach (they sold the car for less than they put in to subsidize it). Corvette is a different situation entirely- GM uses Corvette as a tool to sell other products and uses other products to reach economies of scale financially. GM subsidizes the limit run high performance cars by tacking on money to other models, $100 on a Cruze, a $150 on Impala and say $200 on a Camaro (you get the idea). In the GM scenario everyone else that is driving a product supports the person driving that limited edition car- the masses made it easier to afford. GM says it is part of R&D and engineering but none of that tech used in the limited cars a la ZR1 makes it to anything else for many many years if at all. The key is that they show it off as the obtainable sports car that drives the rest of the brand. Let ‘s also not forget GM just a few years ago took a government bailout because it was so far in the red.

BMW needs to do something different, as there is a market for these products and with others offering such things they can ‘t be the only one ‘s not catering to it. The F80 M3 will reach the market next year and according to certain sources in Munich it may usher in a new era of performance editions. It is highly probable for BMW to offer two versions of the M3, a base model and a more performance oriented model. This is an easy way to make more profits and to keep up with the Jones ‘ while not having to subsidize product. There are some out there that want a more sinister M3 than what is generally ok with the masses and that is not a bad thing but BMW needs to give them something without the need for the aftermarket. With the “IS ” models we saw how BMW could take the turbo engines, tweak the software and add cooling to increase the performance aspect while not needing to retest for EPA or crash tests. This is more than likely coming to the M3 in a hypothetical “M Performance Edition “. The investment is less thanks to not needing all the additional testing and the profit margins are steeper.

So now the regular M3 will be watered down and I ‘ll need to buy the “M Performance Edition ” to get the car I would have bought in the past is probably running through the back of your mind. Based on what we know, we can confidently say that that ‘s not going to be the case. The next M3 in base form will be superior to the current offering and will still be every bit a driver ‘s car for the street and occasional track excursions. The “M Performance Edition ” F80 M3 will be more track oriented with a bit of power boost and a more aggressive exhaust note with a stiffer and lower suspension. BWM is not going to go crazy with this product, it will still be comfortable and luxurious but it will give some wanting more a morsel to nibble on.

While many are concluding that M is on its death-bed, the truth is that our sources are saying a new era is about to begin.

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  • Adam

    People forget all the special edition E30’s and E36’s, some of which were trim and paint and signed plaques (cecottto edition, Imola Individual…..). As for offering two M3’s, idk why the sporty package couldnt be an option like the original ZCP. We’ll see how this manifests itself.

    • It’s easy… real easy to be critical of a company like BMW that has produced so many great cars over the years. I know Bill a little and I know that he loves the brand. He’s also a smart and passionate guy about all the right things a car enthusiast should be.

      But I also think he’s overlooking some fundamental points. Let’s take the M5 that he references early on in the piece as a “Luxury Sedan”. The original M5 was absolutely a luxury car for the time. Furthermore, having owned an E28 (535is) and recently driven a pristine E28 M5, I can tell you from first hand experience that the differences and level of engineering in the E28 M5 from a standard 535is are far less than the current M5 and a 535i. The better argument would be purity of concept. But that’s not what is being talked about here.

      Then he references the 1M and how it never went racing. To my knowledge BMW was approached about having the 1M race (perhaps even in a one-make series) but there simply weren’t enough cars to make it happen. But knowing the folks there, they would have loved to have done it.

      He quickly gets to a conclusion that BMW M has lost it’s soul due to a lack of production based racing. I don’t know if I can agree or disagree with that because the definition of a brand’s soul should and does change to reflect the needs to its customers and ultimately the market. It does no good i the soul has never changed but the company isn’t around anymore. BMW M has continued to create cars that enthusiasts find compelling to buy more and more every year. And the while the core attributes of the brand’s formula have changed a little over the last 2-3 years, the results are very much the same. They are great cars that offer great performance on the track while being comfortable enough to be driven daily. That was the charge with the E28 M5 as much as the E30 M3.

      Is it a shame that the DTM E30 M3 race cars used to be pretty much stock M3s? Absolutely. But that’s DTM’s doing not BMWs.

      Anyway this is best argued over a beer while doing work on an E30.

  • Adam

    On a side note aswell regarding the Jalopnik piece. I dont often read Jalopnik for pretty much this reason, its opinion over fact. As far as the chief complaint over loss of tradtion, well Ferrari have clothing stores through out the world, as does Porsche, who just recently applied the R and RS badges to somthing other than a 911 or GT3, and lets not forget have a baby Cayanne and Panamera coming. Even Pagani did a total role reversal and their new car is turbo and “softer”. So again I invite somone to tell me which attainable brand is as pure as they like, and the next person who tells me I need a popsicle to chill out with…. I’ll give them my HomeDepot gift card, its $25, go buy some sand and pound on it.

    • Bob

      So if Ferrari and Porsche sell out, that makes selling out okay? I don’t follow your argument.

      • Adam

        I was more or less providing examples of the “purest” brands and what they have done.

      • Qflux

        He’s asking who people like you feel hasnt “sold out” as you put it. You guys should start a car company and prove BMW, Ferrari and Porsche wrong. Maybe Jalopnik will kick in. You guys (the “real enthusiasts”) seem to have it all figured out.

  • It’s easy… real easy to be critical of a company like BMW. A company that has produced so many great cars over the years. I know Bill a little and I know that he loves the brand. He’s also a smart and passionate guy about all the right things a car enthusiast should be.

    But I also think he’s overlooking some fundamental points. Let’s take the M5 that he references early on in the piece as a “Luxury Sedan”. The original M5 was absolutely a luxury car for the time. Furthermore, having owned an E28 (535is) and recently driven a pristine E28 M5, I can tell you from first hand experience that the differences and level of engineering in the E28 M5 from a standard 535is are far less than the current M5 and a 535i. The better argument would be purity of concept. But that’s not what is being talked about here.

    Then he references the 1M and how it never went racing. To my knowledge BMW was approached about having the 1M race (perhaps even in a one-make series) but there simply weren’t enough cars to make it happen. But knowing the folks there, they would have loved to have done it.

    He quickly gets to a conclusion that BMW M has lost it’s soul due to a lack of production based racing. I don’t know if I can agree or disagree with that because the definition of a brand’s soul should and does change to reflect the needs to its customers and ultimately the market. It does no good i the soul has never changed but the company isn’t around anymore. BMW M has continued to create cars that enthusiasts find compelling to buy more and more every year. And the while the core attributes of the brand’s formula have changed a little over the last 2-3 years, the results are very much the same. They are great cars that offer great performance on the track while being comfortable enough to be driven daily. That was the charge with the E28 M5 as much as the E30 M3.

    Is it a shame that the DTM E30 M3 race cars used to be pretty much stock M3s? Absolutely. But that’s DTM’s doing not BMWs.

    Anyway this is best argued over a beer while doing work on an E30.

    • Qflux

      Fantastic post… Spot on!

  • Joe C

    Hmm. This one is complicated. The Lime Rock Edition set him off. He must not have taken his meds, or he is like a purist child who has no maturity and perspective on the industry.

    His piece is so full of hyperbole, its hard to begin to use the kind of balanced, rational analysis that BF readers are used to, so I won’t because he’s is just on a rant. And I guess that is ok, as long as we all agree that it is just a rant. He is venting, apparently from a super purist point of view. He mixes in specious arguments, but that is what rants are all about. I’ll just take the “emotional” point that that there is a bigger disconnect between racing and production cars now than in the past. OK. fair enough. From F1 to DTC to ALMS to Grand Am, there aren’t alot of similarities to the road cars. As Gabe notes, that’s not the manufacturer’s fault, its the racing series adapting. (The Turner Koni Challenge still uses largely stock cars, right?)

    He makes one great point however. It relates to brands and credibility. M must not lose the credibility of enthusiasts. I just finished reading “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. He make an interesting similar point regarding Airwalk shoes back in the day, which has relevance to our discussion. That brand expanded from its SoCal skateboard roots to malls across America, but it retained its street cred by selling to its original market through a limited network of boutiques that carried a unique line, not available in the malls. When Airwalk killed the unique line, it lost its cred. I think the 1M is an example of the brand regaining some street cred. But, perhaps the Lime Rock Edition should have been more than a well spec’ed M3. Perhaps it should have had the option of a factory half cage, racing buckets and fire extinguisher. More like a club racing edition. Perhaps that august name should have been attached to a car that was truly track prepped, rather than a sort of sport package for M’s

  • Herr26

    What I fail to understand with articles regarding the death of M. Is that they completely fail to understand the progress that has occurred over the past ten years. The market is now very different , enthusiasts no longer determine the product planning from now on it is purely business. People get old and technology and legislation are part of the process. Now BMW M are now catering to more markets. There is always a certain US-only mentality regarding BMW but many journalists forget that BMW is playing to a global audience they have also neglected to mention that for the first time China overtook the US as BMW’s largest market earlier this year. M has never died. M is still at the pinnacle if you take the M3 for example no other car has bettered it since 2007. We hear the hype then we see the fall from our competitors. I consider M to have been and will always be “experimental” M has done far more to earn its stripes by investing in CFRP for a volume based car. That is significant because BMW’s profits were on the M3 CSL razor thin. BMW took the hit but refined the process so that your forthcoming M4 as the current M3 and M6 and of course the previous M6 manged to incorporate the material technology as standard. There is far more experimental developments within BMW over the few years that make the brand what it is today look at what M has achieved in engines , transmissions , technology and of course what makes an M is the attention to detail in precision and driving enjoyment. M is heading for a radical new era thanks to the substantial investment in creating BMWi and the manufacturing of CFRP. The new M3 is too early for that advantage but you will have further generations and prehaps special models taking full advantage of the material technology investment. The M3 US editions are the responsibility of BMW North America. Do I feel kind of concerned about the brand in regarding these special editions? Perhaps, but there is no denying the fact that they sell out , as has the previous editions, they make money so if they sell out and bring in a substantial return that is a successful business decision. The same goes with China , every M3 edition sells out as does the UK. Going back to progress , M is a more commercial brand now than what it was , the products speak for themselves and have opened up entirely new markets for M cars. If you compare M sales now, you can see that the ratio between enthusiasts and status customers has decreased because the markets have progressed thanks to more customers in the status category. Status is in some countries driving product demand if you compare the segment which carries the 7er. It is showing decline which is why BMW are investigating ideas to sustain the 7er . That is progress and there is no denying the fact that progress has made the SUV the future of the luxury car witness Bentley and Lamborghini and their questionable concepts. There will be another X5M and X6M because in strategic markets these are the best selling M products. And the returns on these two are to great to pass up. There is no denying M’s potential either in typical M or indeed M Performance – Read the M135i reviews to show that M knows what it is doing. The next M car will be the M6 Gran Coupe – A car that in its standard form has achieved great feedback – which is the key to any M. get the basics right, next up will be the M3 Concept Sedan , as a concept it will tell you all you need to know without actually telling you anything until the production car is revealed. Perhaps the biggest shock will be when BMW announce the M4 Coupe. A symbol if anything of progress and global demand. And then there is no denying the potential of an M variant of the forthcoming X4 a car that follows the same footprint as the X6 but in a more compact form and price. With the X6M being the best selling M. in key markets the market is there for a more compact performance model. But possibly the most important phase of BMW is about to begin and that is just a few weeks away , Could BMW M apply the M badge or M performance label to a FWD BMW City Compactive 3dr hatch? Do not rule it out yet. BMW have invested in making a FWD BMW on their terms , the result is revolutionary , it depends on whether BMW enthusiasts accept the idea of a FWD BMW. The death of M has been greatly exaggerated , it is where it has been at the forefront of what it does best , being experimental , innovative and delivering precision. As a sign of the times it has progressed but the philosophy remains the same. To embody the purest expression of dynamics , innovation , precision and individuality. That is BMWM.

  • Chad

    @Herr26, you begin by saying that “enthusiasts no longer determine the product planning, that from now on it is purely business.” in regard to M. This is a terribly sad statement.

    Even if the rest if your comment is right on point, that statement articulates the Jalopnik argument perfectly.

    I hope I misunderstood.

    • sackboy

      Thanx for pointing out clearly, just HOW big an impediment to “special editions” the US Gov. is! This point just canNOT be overstated, nor understood by the average enthusiast! I know people who work at NA, and believe me- they would love to bring us a LOT more stuff- that the requirements to satisfy the Nannies- simply prohibit! Sorry `bout that- doNOT blame BMWNA for most of this- lay blame where it should be! sackboy