50 years of M/agic

Franciscus van Meel CEO, BMW M GmbH

Wolfgang K. Eckelt on tour with Franciscus van meel on Rossfeld Panorama Road, Berchtesgaden, Germany.
Early 2022. Everyone’s been working from home via video conference for what feels like an eternity. But now I finally get to enjoy some fresh air – in one of Germany’s top beauty spots! Actually today is more about self-indulgence than work, as I’m about to find out: how many endorphins are there in a BMW M?

Freedom at last!
Every mile takes me further and further away from my hillside pandemic dungeon to a place where I can breathe freedom and pleasure! I’m heading off to the furthest corner of Bavaria – Berchtesgaden. The obvious association here is Lake Königssee, but that’s rather closed in within the Alpine panorama: too cramped for me, I want to go up to the heights! My destination is the highest panorama road in Germany: the Rossfeld Panorama Road.

The day starts early – and unpleasantly: six o’clock in the morning, fog and drizzle. Not exactly perfect conditions for Sheer Driving Pleasure. But never mind: we start by getting a first-hand impression of the BMW M Series sports cars – and a man who is at least as happy as I am to have escaped a video-conferencing dungeon in Munich: Franciscus van Meel, CEO of BMW M GmbH.

We hit it off straight away, and Franciscus has brought along two other friends – perfect companions for a day of male self-indulgence: the BMW M4 Competition and the BMW M5 CS. They were both Auto Bild »Sports Cars of the Year« in 2021.

The legendary M1 of 1978 was the first car with the designation M: it instantly became Germany’s fastest road-going sports car at 264.7 km/h.

The most powerful BMW M5 in history: the BMW M5 CS.
The 4-door model is the first special edition to be based on the legendary BMW M5, and it’s also the most powerful series production vehicle in the history of the BMW M brand.

As the CEO explains to me, it is powered by the most powerful version of the V8 engine to date, complete with M TwinPower Turbo technology and characteristic high-rev concept. With a weight reduction of 70 kg, it delivers groundbreaking performance figures and has BMW M5 genes right down to the smallest detail.

Featuring exclusive chassis, lightweight construction and design components, it is truly unique in terms of performance and sporty premium appeal. Exterior: design highlights such as carbon elements and accents in gold bronze underline the car’s pre-eminence – both aerodynamically and visually. I take a seat in the sporty M carbon bucket seats with the Nürburgring track silhouette on the headrests.

That certainly is cool: you’re literally breathing the race-track atmosphere. My hands are on the steering wheel with the promising red shift paddles: I’m all set and ready to go.

TwinPower and xDrive
The car’s pulsating heart is the M TwinPower Turbo 8-cylinder petrol engine. An incredible 467 kW (635 hp) means you’re accelerated – or rather catapulted – from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.3 seconds. What? The M xDrive with Active M Differential guarantees maximum traction and driving dynamics. What a shame we’re still on a public road …


Winner of the »Golden Steering Wheel« M4
The second sporting companion for today is a real gold winner: the M4 also won the race for the »Golden Steering Wheel« in 2021. The new BMW M4 beat the Porsche 911 GT3 and the Lamborghini Huracán STO in a vote on the top new models of 2021 held by automobile magazine Auto Bild and weekly newspaper Bild am Sonntag. Readers were impressed by its captivating appearance and precisely controllable driving characteristics.

What’s the magic of M?
I’ve been in the automotive world for a few decades now – and I certainly enjoy moving around in fast, sporty style. But I’ve never driven a BMW M before. So I couldn’t wait for our first meeting, and I ask Franciscus van Meel: what is that accounts for the magic?

»It started 50 years ago and it’s all about motor racing. And it’s all about thrills. When we do series production cars, they’re not just regular cars: they really have this motorsports DNA in them.«

Now there’s nothing holding me back – I want to get first-hand feel of that sporting DNA. The weather has now cleared up: the sun is shining and we’ve left the drudgery of day-to-day routine way down back in the valley under a blanket of fog. We’re on the sunny side – and off we go!

I instantly take to the red start button. It seems to be saying: concentrate all you can – you’re about to launch a sporting ace here! Off we go, the snow is glistening, the road is clear, Franciscus van Meel is up front – I start to feel my way in and instantly get the goose bumps … magic!

Endorphin boost
»Sheer driving pleasure«? … that’s not even half the story! It’s pure adrenaline and endorphins. Along the panorama road, the car’s outstanding driving dynamics are overwhelming, bend after bend: the accelerator pedal responds to every slightest tap, and the hallmark sound when you accelerate is an absolute must, of course – even in 2022! The gearbox is smooth and perfectly graduated with its short shifts. And the compound brakes are reliable, too – a comforting feeling when you thought the next bend was going to be that little bit less tight.

It’s a superb experience – doing laps in a perfect production sports car. Everything has the feel of racing passion about it, but the level of comfort and luxury is absolutely exquisite, too – an enthralling symbiosis.

The M has long been considered the most powerful letter in the world, and in our company’s anniversary year it is more powerful than ever: in 2022 we will continue the success story of the BMW M3 and BMW M4 series, including the first ever BMW M3 Touring and an extremely racing-oriented special model.

Even a purely electric M in the future will drive like an M
After all this driving fun and adrenaline, we stop at an exit and get out of our impressive vehicles to enjoy the no less impressive Alpine scenery in the snow and sun. During our conversation about the wonders of Sheer Driving Pleasure, we touch on the subject of electric cars, too – something that’s unavoidable in 2022.

Of course, BMW M is thinking ahead to the future as well and is in the process of stream-lining the M Series. My initial thought is that the three-coloured M logo won’t sit well with electrification à la Tesla, but Franciscus van Meel has some reassuring words for me: »Even a purely electric M in the future will drive like an M.«

The CEO of BMW M sees it as inevitable that all vehicles will soon be purely electric but that the different segments will continue to exist nonetheless, including small cars with lesser aspirations in terms of performance and luxury, saloons and SUVs- and M vehicles, too. Two purely electrically powered high-performance models from two different segments were presented just last year: the i4 M50, as an electric variant of the M4, and the iX M60 – the electric SUV. These two models add two new elements to the segment of high-performance vehicles: firstly expressive luxury – and luxury is important in this segment – and secondly electrification. This is by no means easy in the sports car segment, of course: after all, M has stood for overpowering sporty flair, motor racing and thrills for 50 years. It’s a reputation that has been hard earned over the years. Now the aim is to move this legacy forward into an equally sporty yet uniquely all-electric future. The transitional link will be a power plug-in hybrid – the XM, due to come out in 2022: a genuine M as a hybrid, with a purely electric range of 80 kilometres, an impressive output of 750 hp (550 kW) and 1000 Nm of torque. »The most powerful BMW M automobile ever produced in series,« says Franciscus, not without a sense of pride. That’s a powerhouse I’d like to get to know, too. After all, one thing is certain: »An M will always be an M!«

Indulgence is M-arvellous!
A wonderful day draws to a close. I’m glad to have finally been able to enjoy a fascinating M experience and I’m already looking forward to what the new electric era has to offer. BMW’s collaboration with the world-famous film composer and Oscar winner Hans Zimmer seems intriguing to me, too. He’s on the team to compose the e-sound. Don’t we live in a fascinating world …?

My day of M-indulgence was sensational. And over pizza – rather than avocado toast – I spend a good while thinking back on the great experience I had with its blend of snow, sunshine and M-agic.

For the production of its new electric models BMW iX and BMW i4, the BMW Group uses regional green hydroelectric power at its Dingolfing and Munich plants.

Franciscus van Meel
Born in the Netherlands, he studied automotive engineering at the Technical University of Berlin. After his studies, he worked for Audi AG for 18 years, most recently as Head of Strategy Electromobility, and for a further four years at quattro GmbH. He then moved to BMW, where he was already CEO of BMW M GmbH from 2015 to 2018. For three years, he held other functions in the BMW Group in the Luxury segment before rejoining BMW M as CEO in November 2021.

Dr. Wolfgang Eckelt, High Performance | Top Company Guide