MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA – In 1998, BMW was among the first automakers to establish a dedicated technical center in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Some nine years before the first Apple iPhone was launched, the German brand recognized the rise of software-based functions, information technology and digitalization not only was increasingly shaping the future of the automobile but also mobility as a whole.
The plan hatched by BMW management back then was to actively tap into potential game-changing developments and the thought leaders behind them by fostering cooperation with a growing number of companies and start-ups in the innovation hotbed south of San Francisco.
As well as supporting its own R&D activities, it also was perceived as an incubator and trend-scouting operation for technologies that could be incorporated in future production models.
This is how the BMW Technology Office USA came into being, firstly in Palo Alto and more recently in Mountain View, where it has been based since 2011, says Frank Weber (pictured, below left), head of BMW’s global R&D operations.
For a quarter of a century, BMW has enjoyed close working relationships and conducted development projects with some of the biggest and most influential companies in Silicon Valley; Apple, Microsoft, Google, Meta/Facebook, Amazon and Cisco are just a handful of the thousands of U.S.-based companies that have cooperated with BMW over the years.
Early projects were heavily focused on in-car entertainment, including wireless mobile phone connectivity prototyping and the integration of the Apple iPod with existing car audio systems.
From those formative days, the activities of the BMW think tank have been expanded to include a much more diverse field of technologies, including battery cells, microprocessors, robotics, sensor fusion for autonomous driving, machine learning, augmented/visual/mixed reality and advanced user-experience design, among other areas.
The developments flow directly into the BMW Group’s worldwide R&D network and associated technology hubs in Munich, Tel Aviv, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo, directly influencing its latest production vehicles, including those from its Mini and Rolls-Royce brands.
They also are integrated into its global design operations, including the Santa Monica, CA-based DesignWorks operation that BMW purchased in 1995.
Today, the BMW Technology Office USA directly employs more than 30 experts from diverse backgrounds. From the outside, it doesn’t stand out. Located next to U.S. Highway 101 and Google’s headquarters, the two-story building provides few clues to the cutting-edge technologies and ideas being hatched inside.
As well as housing R&D operations, it also is home to the U.S. division of BMW i Ventures, the venture-capital company investing in start-ups for automotive solutions.
“Cutting-edge technological ideas developed in the world’s beating heart of high tech, and perfected in our worldwide innovation network. This is how our BMW Technology Office in Mountain View works,” says Weber.
To celebrate its 25 years of operation, BMW has brought its Vision Neue Klasse (“New Class”) concept car to California. The sedan previews the look and technical features, including a new dedicated platform, planned for an electric-powered 3-Series model set to go on sale in North America in 2025 as a rival to the Tesla Model 3.
TUESDAY: BMW global R&D chief Frank Weber discusses the Vision Neue Klasse concept car and its role in the automaker’s future.