BMW?s 3-Series: Managing Platform Design and Development Costs

  • William R Boulton
  • Michael Dowling


BMW?s philosophy is to build driving machines that respond faithfully and enjoyably to their driver?s commands while also providing the safety, practicality, style, quality, reliability, and durability that help make long-term ownership a rewarding experience. It was BMW?s policy to develop new platforms for its series of cars every 7 to 8 years. New platforms were not simply modifications, but completely new structures. According to Friedrich Nitschke, manager for the BMW 3 series development project, there were three goals for the new 3 series platform that came to market in the 1999 model year. First, it was to generate the highest level of customer satisfaction in its class. Second, it was to utilize the best processes available within BMW. Third, it was to generate the most profit of any BMW series. Developing the successor to the thirdgeneration of 3 series was a real challenge, since it had been an extremely successful series. BMW?s chief designer Chris Bangle explains, There are two ways of doing car design. Either it?s a personality cult, where the designer runs the show and the car is just an ego toy, or the stylist is more the curator of a heritage and tradition. Then, the challenge lies in understanding a marque so well you become part of it. It?s quite clear my job here is to perpetuate a set of icons. Bangle?s latest platform introduction had been the redesign of its 5-Series, as shown here. The overall styling of the 3-series was especially important, and was a limiting factor in its design. Models built on the new platform had to look like a BMW and be recognizable on the highway. Focus groups were used to identify the basic design features that made a BMW recognizable, and those traits were maintained in its design. For example, the BMW logo and ?double kidney? grill were key recognition factors. The 3 series position in BMW?s product line set many of the basic characteristics for the new platform, and would determine the basic characteristics of the models using the new platform. For example, the dimensions, engines and transmissions became part of its target definition.