TIME BMW: A Company on the Edge

See Inside BMW’s Secret Design Lab

A rare look at what happens in one of the world's most important research and development centers

For decades, BMW has advertised its vehicles as “the ultimate driving machine.” The meaning of that phrase has started to slip. In an age of connected technology, ultimate driving machines automatically brake for their passengers in emergencies or beam content from mobile phones and tablets as much as they may accelerate quickly or handle nimbly.

That puts BMW, the world’s top-selling premium automaker by sales volume, in a difficult position. It must maintain its reputation for driving dynamics while also catering to changing consumer tastes—like better fuel efficiency and more advanced technology. And it is trying to do so with competitors like Audi and Mercedes-Benz nipping at its heals. Brands ranging from Toyota to Hyundai are also trying to sell more premium vehicles.

Last year, worldwide BMW sales rose 9.5% to 1.81 million cars, while Mercedes-Benz deliveries jumped 13% to 1.65 million vehicles. Volkswagen-owned Audi posted an 11% increase to 1.74 million cars. Global demand for premium cars has rebounded as the U.S. economy recovered from the recession and consumers in developing economies, such as China, continued to buy high-end products.

Harald Krueger, who took over as CEO after the group’s annual shareholders’ meeting on May 13, is trying to continue expanding BMW’s lineup while maintaining its profitability. As part of a strategy, partly overseen by the 49-year-old executive since late-2007, BMW has been aiming to make 30% more vehicles with the same number of workers while trying to reduce production costs per vehicle by raising economies of scale in components, drive systems and modules. Now, Krueger must do the same as cars grow more complex and fuel-efficient.

One of BMW’s little-known assets lies about an hour north of Los Angeles, in Newbury Park, Calif. Designworks, a consultancy owned by the German giant, is charged with designing future vehicles, exploring emerging technologies and experimenting with new materials, such as carbon fiber a major—and costly—part of BMW’s strategy to make its cars more fuel efficient in the future. In this video series, TIME looks at how BMW is trying to deal with the difficulties of a ever-more crowded, ever-changing market.

TIME BMW: A Company on the Edge

Exclusive: Go Inside the Future of Legendary Automaker BMW

See how the automaker is breaking boundaries

BMW has been making cars since 1916. Almost 100 years later, the German automaker has remained a relevant player in a constantly innovating field. It faces stiff competition from fellow luxury carmakers Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, but in 2014 BMW regained its spot as the top-selling luxury car brand in the U.S. (reclaiming first place from Mercedes, which held it in 2013).

But BMW can’t be complacent if it wants to stay on top. The automotive industry is confronting revolutionary change on multiple fronts—meaning that BMW will have to reckon with alternative fuel sources and developing new technology for highly automated cars, among other advances.

In this five-part series, TIME explores these challenges to show how BMW is turning to data, technology and the Cloud to stay competitive.


Why Tesla Is Cutting Jobs in the World’s Biggest Auto Market

Tesla Earns $46 Million In Q4 As Stock Soars Amid Apple Rumors
Joe Raedle—Getty Images People look at a Tesla Motors vehicle on the showroom floor at the Dadeland Mall on February 19, 2014 in Miami, Florida.

The electric car company has been struggling in China

Tesla may be running out of gas in the world’s largest auto market.

The electric car maker confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that it’s cutting jobs in China amid slow sales and sluggish rollouts of electric vehicle infrastructure.

According to research firm JL Warren Capital, less than 2,500 Teslas were registered in China in the last nine months of 2014. 469 of the company’s vehicles were registered in January. Tesla CEO Elon Musk had previously said that selling 5,000 vehicles in China in 2014 would be deemed a success. Tesla declined to comment to the Journal on its sales figures.

One challenge for Tesla in China is the reliance of its electric vehicles on chargers. Because many city residents in China live in apartments, it’s harder for them to keep chargers at home.

Like all automakers, Tesla is eager to establish a strong foothold in China, which became the largest auto market in the world in 2009. More than 21 million cars are expected to be sold in the country this year, an 8% increase from 2014. However, only a tiny fraction of these vehicles use alternative energy sources–in 2014, only 50,000 such cars were sold.

China wants to have 5 million electric cars on the roads by 2020 as a means of reducing rampant pollution problems in the country.

The news of Tesla’s job cuts in China comes after the company actually added more than 4,000 global positions last year.


5 Ways to Know If Trading In Your Car Makes Financial Sense

Car with "sold" sign on windshield

Keeping your old car for longer can save you big time.

Do all of those car commercials on television have you thinking about trading in your car for a bright, shiny new ride? Follow the steps below to decide it makes more financial sense to buy a new vehicle rather than keep repairing your current one. (See also: How Much Should You Spend on a New Car?)

1. Take a Long Hard Look at the Car You Already Have

A new car always looks tantalizing. If we start focusing too much on the prospect of a new car, though, all of a sudden we start noticing every minor thing that may be wrong with our current car. My former boss, Bob G., always used to say, “I never like to invest in things that rust.” A car, outside of a classic car, is not an investment. It’s an expense, and a pricey one at that.

So look at your existing car honestly. Does it run well? Is it reliable? Does it match the needs you have right now? If you answered yes to these questions, delay your purchase of a new vehicle.

2. Calculate the Total New and Existing Costs

Buying a new car is only part of the expense. Do a side-by-side cost comparison of the total cost of a new car compared to your current vehicle.

Include the purchase price (plus interest), as well as the cost of maintenance and repair.

In some states like Virginia, you pay a specific tax every year based upon the blue book value of your car, so make sure to include those types of costs as well. You might be surprised to see that sticking with your existing car for a few more years, and socking away all that extra money you would have spent on a new car now, is a wise financial move.

3. Check With Your Financial Institutions

Just as you get pre-qualified for a mortgage, it’s also a great idea to get pre-qualified for a car loan. You’ll find out the total amount you’ll be approved to spend, as well as the interest rate on the amount borrowed. You may find that there are actions you can take over the next year to improve your credit that will reduce your rate, and perhaps increase the amount you are approved to borrow. These actions could include paying down other debts, increasing your income, or clearing up any mistakes that may currently be on your credit report.

4. Time Your Purchase

In general, October, November, and December are the best times to buy a car because dealers offer a number of incentives to make way for the next year’s models and hit annual sales goals. Also, it’s best to shop at the end of the month because dealerships need to hit certain sales quotas by then, so they’re more likely to cut you a deal to make the sale.

5. Do Your Research

If you’re thinking about getting a new car, do your research. Read reviews of vehicles, check safety ratings and gas mileage, talk to friends, and test drive vehicles that interest you. It’s also important to sit down and really think about what you want in a vehicle. What are your non-negotiables and what is the ranked list of your preferences such as safety, size, gas mileage, features, and design?

A new car is an incredible feeling. I know because I just bought one the last week of October 2014. I’m glad I did my research, closely examined my finances, and timed my purchase well. I never had a shred of buyer’s remorse. Follow this checklist and you’ll make a choice that feels good — and is good for your finances, too.


Watch ‘Connected Cars’ Take Center Stage at CES

James Bond might be envious

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Nevada, several companies unveiled concept cars containing some seriously high-tech gadgets.

Audi, Mercedes-Benz and VW all showed demos of automated car technology, from driverless or “piloted” cars, to smartwatch apps.

TIME ces 2015

This Is the Audi That Is Driving Itself 550-Plus Miles to CES

550 Meilen pilotiert vom Silicon Valley nach Las Vegas: Langstrecken-Test im Audi A7 Sportback piloted driving concept
Audi's driverless A7 at the start of the 550 mile piloted drive from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas. ?Start zur 550 Meilen langen pilotierten Testfahrt vom Silicon Valley nach Las Vegas: Ricky Hudi, Leiter Entwicklung Elektrik/Elektronik, (links) und Ewald Goessmann, Excecutive Director Electronic Research Lab California (ERL), (Dritter von rechts) schicken den Audi A7 Sportback piloted driving concept auf die Strecke.?

Audi's car goes it alone to CES—sort of

Audi’s A7 Sportback may not be what Jack Kerouac had in mind when he envisioned the freedom of the open road. But the self-driving car is still probably the coolest way to get to CES, a stunt the German carmaker is pulling this year by letting the bold test-drive the car more than 550 miles of highway from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas.

The A7 Sportback uses five radars, a laser scanner, and a number of 3D cameras as part of Audi’s “piloted driving” tech, which can drive on highways (but not city streets) without human interference. It can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour on highways, Audi says, and can change lanes and adapt to the speeds of surrounding vehicles. The car warns drivers to take control when a city is approaching with an “acoustic warning indicator.”

When the technology will be commercially available is not yet known. But Audi says its piloted driving technology is “production ready.” This particular model could be an important move in testing the waters of the self-driving market, though Audi has been openly working on the technology for several years. At CES in 2013, the company debuted limited self-driving technology that allowed cars to park themselves.

Audi is presenting the A7 Sportback at CES beginning Tuesday.

Read next: The Science of Why Your Kids Can’t Resist ‘Frozen’

TIME ces 2015

Here Is Mercedes’ Outrageous Vision for the Future of Cars

Newest Innovations In Consumer Technology On Display At 2015 International CES
David Becker—Getty Images A Mercedes-Benz F 015 autonomous driving automobile is displayed at the Mercedes-Benz press event at the 2015 International CES on Jan. 5, 2015 in Las Vegas.

It looks a little like the cars from Minority Report

The self-driving car: everyone’s doing it. Google, Audi and BMW are all steering toward autopilot and, on Monday, Mercedes-Benz revealed its futuristic F 015 Luxury in Motion, a concept car designed for the future of transportation.

Passengers can sit face to face as if in a living room, and can control the car’s settings through gestures on high-resolution screens. LED displays on the front and rear of the car serve as signals to other vehicles. The F 015 also talks—in the promotional video, the car says to a pedestrian “Please go ahead.” It looks a little like the self-driving cars from Minority Report—futuristic and sleek, with a large cabin space.

So far the F 015 is just a concept car, so we probably won’t ever see this same model on the road. But it should give us a good sense of the direction automakers want to go.


Toyota Wants Everyone to Know How It Made Its Hydrogen-Powered Car

Newest Innovations In Consumer Technology On Display At 2015 International CES
David Becker—Getty Images The Toyota Mirai is displayed at the 2015 International CES on January 5, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Japanese car maker will let its competitors study its patents for the next five years, in order to give the fledgling industry a boost

Toyota announced Monday it will make available decades of research on its hydrogen-powered car to competitors in the auto industry, a move that the Japanese carmaker says will accelerate an industry-wide shift to hydrogen technology.

Toyota owns 5,680 global patents related to hydrogen fuel cells, acquired over two decades of research and development, and culminating at the end of last year with the release of its first commercial-scale hydrogen-powered vehicle, the Mirai.

All those patents will now be freely available to companies manufacturing and selling fuel cell vehicles until 2020, Toyota announced Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“Hopefully by sharing these patents with others, these new fuel systems can be refined and improved,” said Toyota Senior Vice President Bob Carter, “to attract a larger market of buyers.”

In December, Toyota began selling the hydrogen-powered Mirai in Japan, and the car goes on sale in the United States and Europe in the second half of this year. The Mirai can run for 300 miles on a 3- to 5-minute charge, and accelerates from 0-60mph in about nine seconds.

Tesla Motors, the electric car outfit headed by PayPal founder Elon Musk, opened up its patents last year. Tesla and Toyota’s goals are similar: to reach a larger consumer base by making their technology more visible, and to help build a burgeoning market for the types of technology they have pioneered.

A major challenge Toyota will face is building a sizable infrastructure of recharging stations. If consumers can’t easily recharge, it’s unlikely the Mirai will gain a market foothold. California began building 28 hydrogen charging stations last year with a $47-million investment.

Toyota is also opening up its hydrogen fuel cell charging station technology, indefinitely.

The Mirai is starting with a small batch of 700 vehicles in 2014 with the goal of growing to tens of thousands by the 2020s. “We believe hydrogen electric will be the primary fuel for the next 100 years,” Carter said.


GM is Bringing Shopping and Hotel Reservations to Your Car

General Motors logo is shown at the General Motors Technical Center.
Bill Pugliano—Getty Images General Motors logo is shown at the General Motors Technical Center.

Now OnStar can get you a cheaper cruller

Your car is already the way you get where you’re going. Soon, it will make sure you’ll have something to do when you get there.

At the International Consumer Electronics Show, starting today in Las Vegas, General Motors will debut a few big additions to its OnStar services. The new feature, called “AtYourService,” will be able to hook drivers up with retailers, providing them with general information and sometimes deals and coupons.

It will also be able to make hotel reservations — which could come in useful if you’re on one of those road trips without a specific itinerary and you’re looking for a place to rest your head on relatively short notice.

Initial retail partners for the AtYourService include Dunkin’ Donuts and Priceline.com. RetailMeNot and Entertainment Book will be providing the coupons, and Amazon’s Audible.com will be providing audio book content. A new feature sure to please people who drive into unfamiliar cities with any frequency will be parking information provided by Parkopedia.

GM and other auto makers are all tinkering with ways to make their vehicles more “connected,” a range of features that has led to some experimentation among manufacturers as they angle to offer the right mix of real-time data often found on smartphones. Connected car services of all kinds have become standard on many new cars and trucks, according to Edmunds.com. Some of the features GM is touting, such as the parking information, have been featured in offerings by BMW and other auto makers.

Among the other OnStar features that will also be rolled out this summer — driver feedback.

Customers will be able to sign up for a service that tells them how they’re driving. If its good enough, users could be eligible for discounts through Progressive Insurance.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

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