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7 things we learned from a chat with BMW M Division chief Frank van Meel

Published: 01 June 2017

► BMW M boss Frank van Meel
► A quick chat during N24
► More M Performance models

During the 2017 Nurburgring 24h, we had a brief catch-up with the CEO of BMW’s M Division Frank van Meel and senior engineer Dirk Haecker.

They weren’t at liberty to discuss too many details of the new BMW M8 - revealed in disguised prototype form earlier that day - but did tell us it’s the first installment of an expanded range of M Division models, including a wider range of not-quite-full-fat M Performance variants.

BMW M8 prototype

1) The BMW M8 project started ‘a couple of years ago’

Frank van Meel:

‘The M8 will launch a little bit later than the regular 8-series. We began work on the project a couple of years ago.

‘We always have to watch that not too much M Division goes into the base car – because not all customers will want to drive like an M8.

‘I think the M8 will set a new benchmark for luxury and performance. That benchmark includes everything you can see on the market now.

Dirk Haecker:

‘We are working on the racing version of the M8 now. The M4 GT4 race car [which made its debut at the 2017 Nurburgring 24h race] took a year and a half to develop. The M8 GTE car will be shorter.

‘One of our drivers in the M4 GT4 car at the Nurburgring 24h is one of the engineers for the M8 [Jörg Weidinger, who set the benchmark Nurburgring time in the M4 GTS road car].’

BMW M140i

2) There will be more ‘M Performance’ models (as per the M140i) in the near future

FvM: 
‘In terms of segments not yet explored, in the X3 and X4 we have M Performance versions.

‘We have a lot other segments, 3-series, 4-series for example, where we don’t have M Performance vehicles.’

3) And more CS models, as per the new M4 CS

‘It’s logical to do [CS versions] for other cars. It doesn’t mean we’re going to do it for every one. But yes, it’s possible we will arrange for all of these.

‘The M3 and M4 – it’s iconic – we put our focus [on that car] first, with the M4 CS between the Competition pack and the brand shaper [the M4 GTS].’

‘The M4 CS [pictured below] is not a limited series, just limited by production capacity. When we started the project we knew that it was going to be sold out anyway.’

Read CAR's review of the BMW M4 CS

BMW M4 CS

4) The BMW M2 is doing well

‘There is so much demand worldwide for the M2, we need to bring up production volumes.’

Read CAR's review of the BMW M2

5) BMW decided to go all-wheel-drive with the new M5 three years ago

FvM:

‘I remember talking to journalists at the Detroit motor show, and saying to them “600Nm and 600bhp only on the rear wheels – that’s not fun.” I had a lot of comments on the internet – “how could you say that!” But we knew, because we had a prototype [in testing], you can [still] always drive like a rear-wheel-drive car – but you have the advantage of the [driven] front axle when the rear is [over-] rotating.’

DH:

‘The implication was that if you go for 4wd, it means only understeer – but we’ve found you can have traction, and you can have dynamic handling.’

BMW M5 prototype

6) There might be more all-wheel-drive M models

FvM:

‘Just because we have the technology, it does not mean that it should automatically be applied to all models. Of course it is a possibility, because we have this technology, but it does not mean we will apply it because we can.’

‘We have a clear philosophy when we bring in any new technology – it must be related to [handling] precision.’

‘I haven’t driven the new [all-wheel-drive] AMG E63 yet. I asked Tobias [Moers, head of AMG] yesterday if he had one I could borrow, but it is too early [for a car to be available].’

DH:

‘I think AMG’s approach is very similar to our philosophy. Very precise steering with very good response is very important to us.’

7) Configurable driving modes are here to stay

DH: 

‘When cars are serviced, we can see how often they use the driving mode switches. [And the implication is, they use them frequently and they're a popular feature.]

‘In the new M4 CS, the way the M1 and M2 buttons [shortcuts to comfort-oriented and dynamic-oriented driving modes] are pre configured, I think the customers can be very happy with that.’

Living with a BMW M3: read CAR's long-term test diary

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, automotive design graduate, Radical champ

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