CES is on at the moment. That’s the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the biggest event of the year for the tech industry and the place where everything from the first home video cassette recorder to the CD player, Xbox games console, and numerous smartphones have debuted over the years.
Since the mid-2010s it’s also seen an increasing presence of car makers, as infotainment and connected technology infiltrates the motoring world, and these days you’re as likely to see a new concept car at CES as you are at the Geneva motor show.
BMW’s there again this year, with a concept called the BMW i Vision Dee. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “M3 Evolution” or “Z1”, but that’s okay because BMW has decided its old cars are uncool now.
Actually, BMW decided that a couple of years back with its “Story of generations” video, an excruciating Baby Boomer versus Gen-Z Kopf an Kopf between an E65 7-series and an iX SUV, arguing about iDrive, internet connectivity and the merits of fossil fuels.
Did it matter that the facelift 760Li was voiced like a crotchety old man despite being, at most, 16 years old at the time, hardly long in the tooth by the standards of BMW’s own history?
Not really; it’s all just, as the 7-series itself says, “marketing bullshit”. This was the time of BMW’s similarly agonising “OK Boomer” gaffe on Twitter, remember, promoting the same iX – the implication being that anyone who found it hideous was simply unwilling to accept change, rather than say, being in possession of a working pair of eyes. BMW, or rather its red-faced Twitter team, walked it back in a wishy-washy apology only a few days later.
The brand has hit the ground running in 2023 though with another ad taking a dig at its old products. This time it’s through the unlikely prism of Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing a motion-capture suit, a cameo by David Hasselhoff and KITT, and the aforementioned Vision Dee lurking in the shadows.
The seven-minute slot is too much to describe here so we’d suggest giving it a watch, particularly if you’ve got an itchy chin because you’ll get in a good seven minutes of scratching time as you wonder what on earth is going on. But the basic premise is that Arnie is kicking around the idea of a traditional first-love story with the car – an E21-generation 3-series – as its hook, and Vision Dee thinks both tale and transport are too old-fashioned, and that there should be more tech involved, because like the iX, that’s apparently all talking cars know of this world.
Or something. Look, it’s complicated, and frankly I was watching it mostly nodding along with everything Arnie was saying, as I suspect most of you are too, wondering why you’d want to corrupt the simple joys of driving with err… changing the colour of your paintwork? That seems to be Vision Dee’s other big thing, anyway. That, and not being too concerned with the tedious act of driving.
If you choose the E21, you risk the thing breaking down with smoke billowing out of the exhaust, or it chewing up your favourite A-Ha cassette. I’m sure the passionate enthusiasts at BMW Classic are glad for the exposure, but I wonder how they feel about one of BMW’s most significant ever models – the first 3-series – being lampooned as a clunky old nail.
It’s all tongue-in-cheek of course, and there’s the same twee kiss-and-make-up-style ending as the Generations video. BMW’s collection of heritage models, and its willingness to show, drive and display them, show that some within the company are still proud of its history.
But if the best its marketing agents can do to promote the brand’s future technology is make its older cars look a bit crap, then one of those enthusiasts within BMW could do well to give them a nudge and remind them that BMW wouldn’t be here at all were it not for the combined efforts of those previous generations.
Uncool to some they may now be when you’re trying to flog mood lighting and windscreen like a giant iPad, but the only reason anyone is paying attention at all was because an E21 3-series defined how the next few decades of BMWs looked and drove, or because the E65 7-series introduced much of the tech that subsequent models have expanded upon – and because that stuff really resonated with people around the world.
Anyway, all this marketing guff has buried the lede on the BMW i Vision Dee: that, in terms of its proportions, and from what we can glean from its size, it is what you might call a “proper BMW” – a relatively compact four-door saloon with a Hoffmeister kink. Even the grille looks better than BMW’s recent efforts, and the company is also using the term “Neue Klasse” to describe it – the same phrase it used for the cars that changed its fortunes in the 1960s.
The 32-colour “E Ink” body and “Mixed Reality” head-up display are almost a sideshow in that respect, and it’s certainly the first BMW concept in a hot minute that hasn’t required looking at it through a mirror lest you be turned to stone.
But I’d still be happier driving along in that E21, enjoying the ride, and accepting the fact the company that built it now thinks we – and the tens of thousands of enthusiasts around the world still driving old 2002s, E21s, M3s, 7-series and more – are just a bit uncool.
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