BMW Quality = Safety and Value

As the owner of an automotive service shop, I am regularly asked by friends and customers for my opinion regarding cars and their value. With our present economy and rapidly changing automotive technology the answers get complicated. Being BMW owners we feel we drive a superior product. I choose driving BMW's over 30 yrs. ago including making a career out of them. As the cost of ownership seems to be rising sharply, are we still getting the value we perceive. Is our judgment still sound?

There are many ways to assess value. First we need to understand why a product costs what it does. Engineering, materials and manufacturing make up the majority of this cost. Generally more invested in these areas makes a better yet more costly product. Relating this to cars, I key on how this improves efficiency, comfort, and most of all safety. Auto manufacturers also operate in a sea of mandates that must be included on their product. There are various ways these are implemented and some methods will be more costly. This can be especially true when areas cross paths. Economy vs. safety is a prime example and this is where BMW shines. A big factor for both is mass or weight. Less will improve economy, but can severely compromise safety. Materials that combine strength and are lightweight cost more. As does the process of manufacturing using them. Our personal desire for comfort and convenience adds pressure to the balance. BMW does a fabulous job at balancing all these areas concurrently. When I compare a BMW to less expensive alternatives I try to translate how things relate to "real world" use. Do we see enough benefit to appreciate the investment? I feel that the primary advantage to owning a BMW is safety! In automotive design this is what it should all revolve around. We live and drive in a hostile environment and we travel long distances at high speeds. This is where BMW and it's German engineering excels versus most other manufacturers.

The government and insurance companies test and rate all cars for crash survivability. The tests are done in numerous ways but in a laboratory setting. Comparing brands & models in this theoretical way can be misleading though. Since these tests are only done at moderate speeds of around 40mph and utilize test dummies. Most cars in a given class can look quite equal in these tests. However most serious injuries occur at much higher speeds or more complicated circumstances. When looking at "actual" injury statistics from insurance companies, BMW rates consistently at the top. Even among the other European makes which as a group are way ahead of the Asian and domestic makes.

Safety comes in different ways, some passive and some active. Passive features include the vehicle structure, it's bumpers, seat restraints and airbag systems. BMW cars start with a very substantial structure. A unitized body that is extremely ridged and layered. They use impact absorbing bumpers that use alloy extrusions and nitrogen support shocks. Many other vehicles use styrofoam in place of this. These are vast differences beneath the surface, that shield you from an impact and restrain you in place. Active features are things like the anti-lock braking system and the traction and stability controls. These including the steering and suspension design work in combination so you and your BMW vehicle can avoid bad situations to begin with. The advantage of having these highly engineered systems can't be over stated. German companies first developed computer controls in these areas and BMW has long made them standard equipment. Being able to maintain control is primary to safety!

This short article can only begin to explain the serious benefits we get driving a BMW. What they have done to produce such a safe and efficient vehicle is well worth the extra cost of ownership. In my 30 yrs of BMW ownership and career in repairing them. I can attest to the implementation of their design elements, and how they protect us from harm. Not an insignificant consideration!

Voit Ritch
Autowerkes Maine Inc.