Ulrich Bruhnke has been president of BMW M since December 2003, when he arrived from a similar position at Mercedes-AMG. We asked him what differentiates an M car and how his team interacts with BMW's mainstream product engineers.
"We start together at point zero in the packaging phase, the initial phase of development of a new BMW, with the description of the M version. We give our input and do the discussions and agreements together. For example, the new standard 5-series' biggest engine is a V-8, but the M5 has a V-10. So, at the very beginning, we gave them the packaging data for our new 10-cylinder engine.
"Then the standard car starts in development. We wait until the body design and the first crash tests are done, then build our first prototypes. We do the M development in parallel with the standard car and synchronize at special points. We also have to make sure we can build the M version on the normal assembly line. We take the bodies out, do the modifications on a "bypass," and bring them back to the normal line. That is how we handle the complexity.
"A BMW M is an ultimate BMW. If we do an M, we do an M. Otherwise, it would be just a BMW with more performance. The philosophy of an M car is to have a high-revving engine and, at least available, an SMG gearbox. We check every BMW series to see if it makes sense to design an M version. This philosophy doesn't fit with every BMW, but if it makes sense and if we can do a good business case, we bring it to the board, and maybe we get the OK.
"Look at the new M5. It is a typical M. We cannot add big spoilers and things like that. If you see the car coming in the mirror, you say, 'Hey, it's an M.' If you know what an M is, you will recognize it in the mirror."