Are Small Disputes Putting BMW’s Partnerships In Jeopardy?


Don’t worry, the Z4 and Supra aren’t going anywhere…for now.

The German car giants may be in the midst of a crisis of alleged collusion, but that doesn’t mean that Bavarian-bred automakers like BMW are in a rush to stop working with other manufacturers by spending on new technologies and filling niche segments to maximize return on investment. The trick to getting away with it is to do it on paper using legal partnerships rather than under the table price fixing deals so that regulators have no reason to worry. But as Automobile Magazine points out, that’s a more difficult a process than it looks.

Though the partnership BMW has with Toyota seems to be chugging along just fine—the Z4 concept looking as enticing as ever and the upcoming Supra sparking our imaginations every time it’s caught circling the Nurburgring—some of the company’s other attempts at sharing research and development costs have fallen through. For the most part, partnerships between manufacturers are a good thing. Sure, they make it so that homogenization stamps out the individual character of a brand by the time it makes it to the dealership, but past examples like the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ marriage or the Mazda MX-5 and Fiat 124 Spider arrangement show that collaboration can yield excellent results if it’s done correctly.

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BMW, on the other hand, has a few failure stories of its own that show how difficult the process can be. One of these failings involves none other than its good friend Toyota. Though the Z4/Supra deal could end up as a shining example of group participation, plans to work together on a small car platform seem to have fallen through completely. The problem here, according to Automobile, is the fact that both automakers are taking different approaches to how each will adapt to the coming changes in the auto industry. Toyota seems to be banking big on hydrogen fuel cell technology while BMW is headed towards electrification in full force. It’s clashes like these that are responsible for killing off a BMW/McLaren partnership for a supercar.

Back in the day, BMW supplied the British automaker with the V12 powerplant used in the legendary three-seat McLaren F1, lauded by many as the world’s first hypercar. The plan was to put a BMW body, likely with kidney grilles intact, onto the carbon tub of a McLaren Super Series (like the 720S). BMW would supply its own cylinder heads and redo the interior to suit its Germanic tastes, but that plan has fallen through thanks to changing Bavarian philosophies on powertrains. “It’s a great piece of kit,” said a senior BMW manager in reference to the McLaren/BMW mashup. “But we came to the conclusion that it is the wrong car for these fast moving times.”

In lieu of the partnership, BMW wants to go its own route with a vehicle that features a more advanced powertrain and relies more heavily on electrification. That doesn’t mean that BMW is looking to stop working with other automakers, especially when the payoffs are so large. Pending projects with JLR for high powered V8 engines could materialize in performance variants making upwards of 600 horsepower, while BMW’s small car hopes could be achieved through a partnership with Chinese automaker Great Wall. The latter of those deals will be harder to pull off given BMW’s expectations of quality and China’s reputation for lacking just that, but Germany hasn't written it off the possibility just yet.

Given the sales volumes that hang in the balance (up to half a million cars all things considered) those dollar signs might become the ultimate form of diplomacy between the brands. More than making money, however, partnerships do one thing that divided automakers working for their own benefit cannot: preserve the modern day auto industry machine in the face of changes that are making industry insiders squeamish about its future. In the face of absolute destruction, even mortal enemies can come together and fight to survive.

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