BMW trumpets new 'Connected' system amid warning digital offering will soon be a car's biggest selling point
BMW: Focus on digical
Against a backdrop of ceaseless change by rivals and newcomers, BMW have put down their own latest marker on 'connectivity'.
Basically, if you have a Connected Drive account with them, then you're going to get a whole lot more stuff for free. It's all possible because of a flexible service architecture called the Open Mobility Cloud.
They are calling the app 'Connected'. You download it onto your smart phone and the world should be your oyster. They say it will change everything, that it is the next, accelerating phase of the digital revolution.
Others - including traditional rivals, newcomers such as Tesla, and imminent arrivals such as Google - will most likely claim to at least match, if not better, what BMW are talking about.
There is a lot of promise and fear around, partly due to research from McKinsey, showing people are more inclined to shift to a rival if they are not happy with the digital service they are getting in their car. I don't know about that, but there is a quantum shift in the role of the car as an extension of the office or living room. That's what younger well-off people, especially, want.
It is not, BMW executives surprisingly told me, so much about the dynamics or individual performance of the car any more (though their colleagues strongly emphasised those aspects, subsequently, with new derivatives, revised engines and power bases). Digital, they say, is now the all-consuming passion.
Among the much-vaunted elements of the 'Connected' app is the one that tells you how long your journey is going to be, what traffic is like and the best routes etc.
As all that can be on your phone, you can have all your inputs keyed in before you get into the car. Then it 'seamlessly' merges with your sat nav. Others include pre-warming/cooling your car etc, but there's a lot of stuff about.
The truth is that a demonstration of the app's many uses didn't work tremendously well. But let's be generous and put that down to teething problems.
Next morning, however, another side raised its head. Our mobile phone told us we should leave in 10 minutes.
We weren't ready and all sorts of digital alarms went off. The end result was we left the blinking BMW mobile phone with the BMW people wondering what had gone wrong. Oh dear. By the way, the app will work with Apple IOS (65pc of BMW owners have this) straight away, and with android from October.
Despite all that, Dieter May, senior vice-president Digital Services, insists digitisation is shifting the focus from the car to the driver like never before. "It used to be power; now it is digital."
Dieter was blunt. He told me: "Without digital you will not be able to sell cars within a couple of years."
The car is essentially embedded with digital. He told how elements on the app will be refreshed every six weeks. They are using all their own software; the framework is all theirs too.
BMW as a company has to "transform itself" Dieter says. That's putting it up to senior management.
The major attractions of ConnectedDrive so far, have been real-time traffic information, online services and entertainment.
He re-emphasised that the mechanics of the car, its power and drive are no longer the outright main attractions for many people who want digital first.
They want no difference in convenience and reception between what they can do at home and in their car.
Yes, he said, you could see the day when Connected tells you to leave the car at home because of traffic and take public transport instead.
* It was almost a relief to see the company rolling out more tangible technologies involved in revised petrol and diesel engines.
They claim the new-generation Efficient Dynamics - petrols and diesels - have more power (7bhp), slightly better economy, are smoother, quieter and 5pc cleaner.
Because they can be placed conventionally and transversely, they will be used in future MINIs and BMWs. When we'll see them, I don't know for sure, but there's talk of a first appearance of some in the new 5-series later this year.
The 3cyl and 4cyl petrols will have a 'Twin Power' turbo with the new direct fuel injection system working at higher pressure.
All the new 4cyl diesels get twin-turbochargers which, up to now, have only been on more powerful versions.
Interesting too, that the cylinder bores in the new diesel are flared slightly at the lower end, to lower friction for ultimately a better performance.