Dr. Herbert Diess - Euro Notes - Up To Speed

An Interview With Dr. Herbert Diess, President Of BMW Motorrad

Fuelled by a slew of radical new designs, BMW's motorcycle division is enjoying record sales and profits that are driving a constant flow of innovative models from the historic German marque. The last three years have seen Europe's largest motor-cycle manufacturer transform its staid image into one of performance and allure. Annual production continues to edge ever closer to the 100,000 mark (97,500 bikes in 2005) and sales surpassed one billion euros that year. The person leading this charge is 48-year-old Munich native Dr. Herbert Diess. A serious motorcycle enthusiast (we met him at the 2006 Goodwood Festival of Speed, where he raced the company's 1990 RennBoxer up the hill), Dr. Diess is not another widget-winding suit put in place to count beans. He's utterly committed to refocusing BMW on the exhilaration of riding and the ultimate product performance. Here, Dr. Diess takes a few minutes to tell us more about the ongoing "sportification" of the BMW brand.

Alan Cathcart: BMW motorcycles are sportier now than ever before. What's driven this transformation?
Herbert Diess: We saw growth potential available with the right new products. In the same way as our car division is seen as a sporting brand, there was growth potential for sportier BMWs on two wheels, too.

AC: The HP performance concept has proven quite successful since it was introduced on the R1200GS-based HP2. Did you expect this?
HD: We sold about 700 examples of this model in '05, and I'm very pleased with that result, because this 100-bhp "super-enduro" is a very exclusive bike-and not a cheap one! We're very happy with how the public reacted to the HP concept, and so we want to introduce a special type of high-performance bike under the HP label. I wouldn't exactly call it a sub-brand like the M-Power cars, but a special type of bike nonetheless.

AC: Only off-road models under the HP label?
HD: No, not exclusively off-road. One path open to us is to develop an HP streetbike based on the Boxer engine, but this will depend on the success of the R1200S sport model.

AC: Has BMW considered developing a race version of the R1200S that could perhaps form the basis of a customer HP model?
HD: The Boxer motor is air-cooled, with certain disadvantages compared to a water-cooled Superbike on the racetrack, so we didn't think about racing it. Even in a 1200cc twin-cylinder class, a water-cooled V-twin would have an advantage over an air-cooled Boxer engine. So, no Superbike-for the moment, anyway. But if there is an opportunity to compete with the bike in endurance racing, or maybe Formula Xtreme in the States, we'll do so.

AC: What about MotoGP?
HD: As you know, we published a photograph of a testbike our colleagues on the car side are helping us to develop. This is strictly a development project, mainly used to test electronic devices such as ride-by-wire throttle operation or traction control by means of monitoring lean angle. We absolutely do not intend to go MotoGP racing. In terms of undertaking a MotoGP venture or even a Superbike Championship, this is too far away from our existing product range.

AC: Regarding the Boxer, why not a Kompressor version? Supercharging adds significant performance at almost no mechanical cost, and BMW has modern experience with the supercharged Mini Cooper S.
**HD: I've ridden some Kompressor versions of the last generation of Boxers. The Kompressor basically increases the displacement of the engine, so you get a very torquey, powerful motor. But on the Boxer engine, the limits of air-cooling (even with secondary oil cooling) would be an issue, and high valve temperatures, too. The Kompressor can add only a limited amount of additional performance to the current Boxer engine, which is already operating close to its limits. It might make sense on a water-cooled version in the future, but this is not something we are currently working on.

AC: Where do you see BMW headed over the next 10 years?
**HD: What we've done in 2005 and 2006 has already shown quite clearly the direction we're going. We're trying to keep our core customers pleased, so where we already have iconic products-the GS, RT, F650-we want to focus on making these products sportier and more attractive. The newest version of the R1200GS, released in '05, was lighter, more agile and more of a sportbike than ever before-and we sold 35 percent more GSs in '05 than we've ever sold in a single year before. At the same time, we will work to attract additional customers for the brand by adding sporty products in segments we are not in yet. The K1200S has a conquest rate of 40-50 percent in some markets, against Japanese competitors like the Suzuki Hayabusa and Kawasaki ZX-12. The same applies to the K1200R, a 160-bhp naked bike many people would not have expected from BMW a few years ago, which appeals to younger customers who would not have considered a BMW before. We are investing continuously in our iconic products, but adding other more emotional, sportier bikes to surround these.