Today we have part two of BMW’s inside look at the story of the new M3 and M4’s development. The interview is with product managers at M, Christoph Smieskol and Michael Wimbeck – the two at BMWM who lead the program on both cars. Like the previous piece, it’s an excellent look at what goes into designing and engineering a modern M car.
How do you create an icon? Part 2: The wish for realism.
The BMW M3 Sedan, BMW M4 Coupé and BMW M4 Convertible are the latest additions in a long success story. We wanted to know how they came about. So we asked two central members of the development team, product manager Christoph Smieskol and project manager Michael Wimbeck, to tell us more. The first part of the interview (‘A question of character’) dealt mainly with the goals that the designers set themselves; the question they address in this second part is how the high-performance M automobiles made their way onto the roads.
Mr Wimbeck, How do you go about making an M automobile like the BMW M3 or BMW M4?
Michael Wimbeck: The first thing we think about is how to find the best way of realising what is required of the vehicle.
We are not so dogmatic that we stick stubbornly to a particular type of technology, but we do have a clear idea of what the M stands for. The M philosophy is to give the customer an overall concept that is as coherent as possible. This in turn determines the choice of technology.
For example, with the new BMW M3 and M4, we decided to move over from an eight-cylinder naturally aspirated engine to a newly designed M TwinPower turbo six-cylinder and to develop a new electromechanical steering.
It was quite clear to us that our fans would question us most intensively about these two new developments. And now that the cars are out on the road, we have received a lot of positive criticism, particularly in these two points. It can therefore be concluded that we have succeeded in our mission of creating a benchmark vehicle within the competition field.
The development process did not require us to make any major leaps forward or suddenly base our activities on new technologies. The common thread retains its validity from start to finish; only then is it possible to maintain the high depth of development and to achieve the overall design harmony that forms the focal point of every M automobile. Only then are the components perfectly coordinated with each other. If, after half of the development period has passed, I suddenly notice that I have to take a sudden change in direction, then I cannot attain this depth of development.
Christoph Smieskol: An important aspect of the project was that we always maintained a clear understanding of what it was we wanted. We defined the character of the BMW M3 and BMW M4 on the basis of the M philosophy, and we always had a clear and consistent image of where it was we were going. The factor of weight reduction was our yardstick. And the heart of every M automobile is its engine. We had to be certain that both of these areas were elaborated absolutely coherently to ensure that in the end, the overall design harmony that we wanted was discernable. No individual department worked alone but everyone maintained a clear vision of our objective in the form of the overall package.
Michael Wimbeck: We have some real technology freaks in some of our departments. And whenever you spoke with these colleagues and asked them how they would go about doing things, the answer they gave you was often one that exactly matched our philosophy. Sometimes, these colleagues thought that they weren’t allowed to do what they really wanted to do. And very often, we said, ‘no, no that is just the right thing. Contribute your ideas. Make a really cool car, one that you would like to drive yourself.’ And once they realised that could – and were even expected to – approach things that way, the result was fantastic.
You get the impression that there are many people working together on a relatively small space at BMW M GmbH, people who really put their heart and soul into what they do.
Christoph Smieskol: Yes, that is true. The short distances are important, and after a few projects I can really say that we have an outstanding team. I have experienced many ‘aficionados’ who are all part of the process and often take unconventional routes towards their objective. There is no work to rule without looking left or right, but everyone thinks together to find the best way of reaching the common goal. There are many examples of this: with regard to the steering, there were some long discussions about how it should be dimensioned so that it would work with maximum precision and spread. How should the exhaust system sound and how do we create the right sound?
We have repeatedly enhanced the tyres in collaboration with the supplier – at times based on feedback received from DTM racing drivers. This necessitates looping through the top people in the technical departments a few times to ensure that in the end, the car turns out exactly as it has.
Michael Wimbeck: As a project team, I see our job as giving these colleagues the freedom to create the working conditions they need to attain optimum results, obviously bearing in mind the tight cost targets. When people are realising themselves while moving in the right direction, you have to give them the space they need to do it. It is also important to interconnect them properly and say, ‘shall we sit down in this or that grouping and talk about the following problem?’ Although actually, that isn’t so difficult. The development department here in Garching is of a manageable size and many people also spend time together outside work. Even then, we talk a lot about our development activities. But in the end, I believe that you can really see if a car has been built with passion by people who have had the chance to dedicate themselves to the job.
Creating a clearly defined consensus in terms of the goal to be achieved enables a certain freedom in the form of the realisation.
It is important to get people together around a table at an early stage. This often gives rise to possibilities that nobody would previously have thought of.
Christoph Smieskol: A good example of this is the tailgate of the BMW M4 Coupé: in the course of the tests conducted for the project at the Nürburgring north loop, it was noted that the aerodynamic balance of the Coupé was not perfect. This meant that we had to devise an optimisation for the boot lid.
We could simply have stuck a spoiler on it. But with the BMW M4 Coupé, its size would have had to be far in excess of the small spoiler lip that works so well in the BMW M3 Sedan. This would not have been compatible with weight requirements and it would have left the designers gasping for air (laughs). Which led to the suggestion from the technical departments to integrate the spoiler in the shape of the tailgate. And while we are redesigning the tailgate, then we can make it considerably lighter than the standard part by using C-SMC material. Then the designer had the idea of continuing the design line of the powerdomes over the roof and into the tailgate. In this way, everybody contributed towards optimising the final aerodynamics, design and weight.
Michael Wimbeck: It was a similar thing with some of the component modules. The question was often ‘if we are going to have change this module anyway to comply with our specifications, what else is there that we can do on top? The necessary change is going to incur costs anyway, so let’s sit down together and try to come up with some ways of getting more use out of the modification.’
For example weight reduction: cars are getting bigger and bigger and basically also heavier. Reducing a car’s weight is a difficult and costly process. It is as if every single gram saved takes a major effort.
Michael Wimbeck: The subject of lightweight construction is a very detailed business. Each individual has to make his own contribution. Of course there are some highlights like our CFK components. But it is no longer the case nowadays that you can simple replace five parts and suddenly the car is thirty kilograms lighter – not even if you spend a lot of money on it. The components of the base vehicle are already so well dimensioned by BMW AG that you ultimately need a broad-based attack to achieve the kind of weight-saving that we have managed to do with the BMW M3 and BMW M4, and one that serves the overall design harmony.
Mr Wimbeck, you once told me that this overall design harmony only became visible at a relatively late stage in the development process. Is it true that it only becomes apparent that components are at various stages of development after they have been installed in the test vehicles?
Michael Wimbeck: Yes that is correct. First of all, each technical department performs optimisations within its own field. The department can already selectively evaluate its results with its trained eyes, but it is only when everything comes together that the picture pans back to reveal the vehicle as a whole. Great praise is deserved by those colleagues who manage to optimise their area of the design without being able to refer to the rest in optimum form.
The advantage to us is that we are able to conduct simultaneous tests across different departments at our test centre in southern France, in the winter test at Arjeplog in Sweden (LINK) and at the Nürburgring. This allows colleagues to discuss things and systematically compare notes; for example the engine team can engage in exchanges with the control systems team or chassis and tyre team, etc. We don’t have to wait until the next department gets hold of the car, but together we benefit from a huge joint surge in development.
One example concerning overall design harmony: every Friday we used to have a meeting at the Regensburg plant in which the BMW M3 Sedan and BMW M4 Convertible were being built. The motorway from Munich to Regensburg is at times somewhat demanding. I made the most of the opportunity to drive a different test vehicle to Regensburg virtually every Friday and to compare it each time with my own BMW M3 E92. For quite a long time, I felt more comfortable in my BMW M3 E92 when driving in the fast motorway bends.
At some point, I spoke to Markus Gratzl, the head of our chassis development department. I can still remember telling him, ‘Markus, something isn’t right. I am driving the new car with sweat breaking out on my forehead but when I drive my own
BMW M3 E92, I feel like I can count the daisies on the side of the road, despite my high speed.’ Markus laughed and promised me that next time I would get a car in which not just some components were at a high state of development, but all of them. The following Friday, I couldn’t stop grinning, because I thought I was now finally sitting in the right car, now I could drive relaxed and with precision. This is not something that only a professional driver or racing driver would notice but even someone like me, when driving from Munich to a meeting in Regensburg.
Did the cooperation between the Munich and Regensburg plants, in which the BMW M4 Coupé, BMW M3 Sedan and BMW M4 Convertible were built, play an important role?
Michael Wimbeck: The two plants in Munich and Regensburg supported us extremely well. We repeatedly tormented the colleagues there with our demands on the production facilities, such as the rigidity measures that were implemented in the body shell.
Our argumentation was always – ‘this is a BMW M3, or a BMW M4, we simply need these part in our vehicle. However you choose to make them in a large series-production process, they are absolutely vital for the character of this vehicle.’ Most of the time, we were able to convince them pretty quickly and there was no instance where they managed to talk us out of it.
Built in Regensburg: BMW M3 Sedan and BMW M4 Convertible.
I took every opportunity to follow the process along the production line when each first vehicle was being made, both in Munich and Regensburg. Only then do you see what ‘crimes’ you have committed and what efforts and flexibility are required. Both plant teams deserve huge, huge praise for going the proverbial extra mile for our sake.
BMW M4 Coupé in BMW’s Munich plant.
Christoph Smieskol: The BMW M3 had been built at the Regensburg plant for many years already, so they were already familiar with our demands.
But for the Munich plant, this was the first time in 23 years that they were building an M automobile. The works manager and works project manager were not only 100% with us but it even felt like 180%. You could even tell from the team there what enthusiasm and motivation a car like this can generate. There were some who all but kneeled down before the first finished vehicles – the BMW M4 Coupés were literally surrounded by large groups of people.
Mr Bohrer, the head of the Munich plant said that on a number of occasions they were called upon to learn something new. Even though they appeared surprised about a few things, they realised that was how it had to be.
Michael Wimbeck: When the preliminary series was finished and a few more vehicles were available at the plant, I told everyone who was involved with our car, ‘please take one of these cars home with you, drive it around, and if you are fully confused and cannot tell what is right or wrong – then all is well. You just have to keep on driving and at some point the moment will come when you are addicted to exactly that. Then we have done our job.’
One question that is frequently asked is how you chose the colors Austin Yellow for the BMW M4 Coupé and Yasmarina Blue for the BMW M3 Sedan?
Christoph Smieskol: We have a certain colour tradition. There are certain historically defined colours at BMW M, both with respect to blue and the different yellow hues. We have been doing this for several generations already, so the question was how to carry on with this tradition and develop it further.
We don’t want to keep applying the old colours but we wish to move things on as we advance towards the future. Yellow is a characteristic colour that matches the carbon-fibre parts and also goes very well with the dark wheel rims. This is where we have revived the tradition of the BMW M3 E46 and BMW M3 E36.
The blue theme has also passed through the generations. Blue is one of the three colours that appear in the three stripes of the Guigaro M. Based on this, we were able to work together with the designers to find the optimum direction.
Michael Wimbeck: We even managed to have the second ever BMW M4 Coupé to leave the production line painted in Austin Yellow. You can imagine the commotion in the plant when this car passed through the line.
If you were to order one yourself, whether a BMW M3 Sedan or a BMW M4 Coupé? How would you want it to look?
Christoph Smieskol: That is a very difficult question. To begin with, I was a great fan of the BMW M4 Coupé. But now, the more I see the BMW M3 Sedan, the more I like its quite particular character. The four doors in conjunction with the large wheel arches are rather impudent.
Michael Wimbeck: I have already chosen the BMW M4 Coupé almost with the launch specification, i.e. in the same way that the car was presented to the public. In Austin Yellow, with black rims, and black full-leather upholstery. I have spent the last three years seeing to it that we produce a vehicle exactly like this – and so obviously that was the one I wanted to have.
Christoph Smieskol: And in case you are unable to find a new colour that reflects your ideal wishes: we recently had a BMW M3 Sedan standing here in mineral grey, with black rims and a BMW Individual Amaro Brown interior – this was indeed a fascinating colour combination.