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MUNICH - I'll always remember the first time I got behind the wheel of a BMW, and I'll never forget a recent experience I had driving one.
My initial spin in a Bimmer was about a decade ago. I had been shopping around for a new car for six or seven months, and one afternoon, while perusing possibilities at the Pointe West AutoPark, on a bit of a lark, I thought I would test drive a BMW.
Accompanied by salesman Patrick Hasselmann - an expert in the German brand, like his father Horst before him - I got behind the wheel of a pre-owned metallic grey 2006 325xi.
Patrick had a particular route he wanted me to navigate. It involved steering the car through a couple of the cloverleafs at the perimeter and Roblin Boulevard, and I recall him encouraging me to give it some gas as I was going through the turns. The car handled and felt like nothing I had previously driven.
There was no turning back after that.
Needless to say, I purchased that car from the folks at Birchwood BMW. A few years later, I traded it for a black 2008 535xi - big-time luxury, super smooth ride, 300-horsepower engine and at its best accelerating to pass on the highway.
I also recently took ownership of a new 2018 330xi - metallic gun metal grey with coral-red interior.
So, before we go further into this little tale, full disclosure if you haven't already figured it out: from Day 1 in that cloverleaf with Patrick until today, I consider myself to now be a "BMW guy." Yep. one of those.
And while I have enjoyed driving my cars every single day, hey, I live in Winnipeg and, well, let's be honest - it's been hard at times to fully appreciate the magnificence of a great car on most Manitoba roads.
That all changed on a recent trip to Europe.
I did not take delivery of my new car in Germany - you can do that, ya know? - but in June I did enjoy a simulated experience.
Behind the wheel of a 640xi GT - picked up in Munich, courtesy of BMW Canada - I zipped along the famed Autobahn, wound my way through some tight turns in the Austrian Alps, entered the picturesque and historic cities of Cesky Krumlov and Prague in the Czech Republic and visited picturesque little villages in southern Bavaria.
Travelling 2,500 kilometers over 12 days, I went a top speed of 207 km/h on a stretch of road between Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Munich; I know, should have gone faster, but frankly, there's a lot of traffic on the Autobahn and it's a little unnerving going that fast and coming up on cars in the adjacent lane.
I generally averaged around 160 or 170 km/h and thankfully only collected one speeding ticket, for doing 136 in a 130 km/h zone. That's right folks, there are speed limits in Germany, and you need to be alert to the changes from no limit to a set limit. Get this: the cost of the ticket was 15 euros! A parking ticket I got in Munich was more than that.
BMW's European Delivery program is designed like this:
● You select and build an eligible model and then request a Euro delivery at your local BWM retailer; X3, X4, X5, X6 and all i-branded vehicles are not eligible for the program as they are built in the Spartanburg, Va., plant. The MSRP on Euro delivery is the same as having it delivered to you in Winnipeg - there's no extra charge for the service.
● An Experience package from BMW will help you plan the trip, including info on hotel bookings, how to book your complimentary plant tour and visit to the BMW Museum and drop-off details. BMW Canada also offers customer discounts on Air Canada airfares to Munich.
Complimentary shuttle service will transport you from Munich Airport to the BMW Welt, where your car is waiting, or any downtown Munich hotel.
- After checking in at the premium lounge in the Welt, a personal representative will guide you through your day, including a briefing on your new car. You can also have a tour of the Welt, a factory tour and a visit to the BMW museum.
- The premiere of your car involves it being revealed on its own platform, being led down an amazing staircase and then driving straight out of the Welt and onto the streets and roads of Europe. Also, 14 days of complimentary European road insurance and registration are included and additional coverage is available for purchase in 30-day increments (about $650/month).
- When you have completed your European tour, you can drop your car at a variety of different destinations for shipment home. Six places in Germany - including Munich, Frankfurt and Hamburg - are free of charge, while other places such as Vienna, Paris, Nice, Amsterdam, Madrid and London are $800. Shipment back to Winnipeg will take six to 10 weeks, depending on where you drop the car in Europe.
As part of my day at BMW world in Munich, I had a factory tour, a museum tour and watched several folks taking ownership of their new cars at the Welt.
Lasting a couple of hours, the factory tour is fascinating as you watch the various stages of production. The 1,800 robots - 1,500 in the body shop - are both amazing and kind of creepy in a Terminator sort of way. Approximately 950 cars and 3,000 engines are manufactured at the Munich plant each day. They actually use emu feather dusters at one stage in the painting process.
Hundreds of thousands of people visit the four-cylinder BMW tower and the bowl-shaped museum next to it each year. The museum showcases the history of the company, and many old cars, motorcycles and airplane engines are on display. I particularly enjoyed the roadster display and the House of the Series, which features the development of individual series and then goes on to document the development of BMW in the executive class and the success of the BMW M models.
Opened in 2007, the Welt is an impressive work of architecture that is a multi-use exhibition centre and also has a showroom with the current model lineup of BMW cars and motorcycles. It's also where customers receive delivery of cars. Ninety per cent of the folks collecting cars at the Welt are Europeans - mostly Germans - while the other 10 per cent are North Americans taking adavantage of the European Delivery program.
Listen, I was treated royally when I took possession of my new Bimmer at the Birchwood showroom this spring, but the dramatic "staged experience" in which folks await and then receive their new car at the Welt almost belies words - like kids in a candy store.
There were many highlights over 12 days of toiling around Europe in a 6-series BMW, and again is an experience almost too difficult to describe in words, but the most memorable were: entering the centre of Prague and then making my way up the amazing Nerudova Street to the spectacular Golden Key hotel; hitting the no-speed-limit zone for the first time just south of Munich at around the same time BTO's Roll on Down the Highway started to play; and the zigging and zagging on the winding roads of the Austrian Alps.
I finally got to truly enjoy the Ultimate Driving Experience.
Steve Payne, General Sales Manager - Birchwood BMW
TRUST CARE EASY BMW GROUP Financial Services Canada SUMMER 2017 EDITION
On June 14, for the first time ever, Birchwood BMW went off-site for a new product launch.
More than 200 invited guests showed up at Pizzeria Gusto on Academy Road to enjoy delicious food and wine, great music and the opportunity to learn about the new BMW M550i xDrive sedan - which is due out next year.
What better way to celebrate the arrival of world class luxury cars than at one of Winnipeg's premier fine-dining establishments.
The overview was provided by BMW Canada product planner Patrick Clancy, who reports he has personally been working on the newest 5-Series model for the past two years.
"Our 5-Series combines the best features of the 3-Series and the 7-Series," he says. "Globally, the 5-Series is our bestseller. So the M550i xDrive is very important for us. We build cars for people who like to drive."
The M550i xDrive is a mid-sized sedan which, Clancy says, will be the fastest 5-Series model ever. The new AWD M550i xDrive is powered by a twin turbo V-8 engine that puts out 565 horsepower and can go from zero to 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds. It is also 62 kilograms lighter than its predecessor.
"BMW doesn't believe in making radical changes," Clancy says. "Rather, our models evolve. So, the new M5 has the same BMW grille and headlight configuration, but with a more swept-back silhouette that gives it a sportier appearance. It is a car that commands attention."w
Inside, Clancy notes, the new M550i xDrive will have all the comforts and luxury touches the higher end 7-Series has to offer. The leather and wood trim are of the highest quality and the metal button is really metal. Both driver and front passenger can enjoy massaging seats. And you have a choice of interior fragrances.
"BMW developed the fragrances with the help of a well-known Parisian perfumerie," Clancy says. "The fragrances are designed so the aroma doesn't stick to your clothing when you leave the vehicle."
Clancy says BMW is planning to introduce a fully-automated vehicle for 2021. "Even then, we prefer to view our drivers as co-pilots," he says. "Even now, our driver-assist technologies - lane-keeping assist, active cruise control and stop-and-go technology - are leading edge."
Steve Payne, Birchwood BMW's sales manager, reports quite a number of people at the event came into the store last Saturday to test drive some of the 2017 models that were on display outside Pizzeria Gusto.
While Birchwood BMW has made it standard practice to host gala evenings to introduce new models, sister store Birchwood Mini Winnipeg has traditionally welcomed new models with little fanfare. With the launch of the 2017 Mini Countryman, however, the dealership took a leaf from the BMW store and threw a party to introduce the newcomer.
"This was the first time we have had a real product launch," Birchwood Mini product genius Tony Pedreira says of the May 23 event, which also featured music and refreshments. "We had a pretty good turnout and a really positive response to the model."
Pedreira points out the new Countryman's Cooper and Cooper S versions offer a choice of front-wheel drive or Mini's ALL4 all-wheel-drive system. The Cooper has a 134-hp 1.5 litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine with six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The Cooper S comes with a 189-hp 2-L turbo four-cylinder engine with an eight-speed transmission.
The 228 hp John Cooper Works version and a plug-in hybrid model are still to come.
Pedreira notes the new model is larger and roomier than its predecessor, a design feature MINI customers have been waiting for.
"When in the past our customers' life situation changes and they have needed larger models to accommodate growing families, they would have to move on from our models to competitors' vehicles," Pedreira says.
"Our new Countryman can accommodate a family of four or five and sports gear or baggage for family trips."
Standard equipment on all models includes sunroof, keyless entry, a backup camera, rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, Sensatec synthetic-leather upholstery, and 17-inch wheels (on the Cooper). The Cooper S models have 18-inch wheels, LED headlights and daytime running lights and sport seats.
Pedreira reports the purchase price for the 2017 Countryman ranges from $27,000 to about $38,500.
There are few dealerships that do new car launches quite like Birchwood BMW. On July 6, more than 300 people attended a gala evening at the Pointe West AutoPark facility to celebrate the official launch of some of BMW's 2017 models - and the guests were suitably impressed.
The stars of the evening were the 2017 M2, 2017 M4GTS and 2017 i8 hybrid. "Tonight, you are getting a glimpse into the future," said Birchwood BMW senior sales consultant Patrick Hasselmann while introducing the new models.
In an interview, Hasselmann reviewed each new model individually. The i8 (which BMW introduced last year) can go from zero to 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds. The model, he notes, has a unique style with wing-like, scissor doors and a sculpted body that helps control air flow. He points to its carbon fibre construction. Carbon fibre, he notes, is half the weight of conventional steel and twice as strong. He points out the interior is made largely of recycled material. "The i8 is the world's ultimate hybrid car," he says. The sticker price on the i8 is $150,000. Birchwood BMW only has the one model on the ground.
Equally rare are the M2 and the M4GTS. The 2017 GTS, Hasselmann says, is one of just 700 that have been manufactured, and only 50 are available in Canada. "The GTS is an absolute racing car track monster that you can drive on the street," Hasselmann says. "It has fully adjustable spoilers on the front and wings on the back. The suspension can be set for all kinds of different conditions." The new GTS, he adds, is the first car on the road with a water vapour injection system. A fine watery mist is sprayed into the intake chamber, cooling the air and making the air denser, thereby yielding considerably more horsepower and torque. "The horsepower is officially rated at 493," Hasselmann says, "but that's underrated."
The GTS exterior is also built largely of carbon fibre. Hasselmann reports Birchwood BMW's one GTS model has already been spoken for. The '17 M2, Hasselmann says, is a throwback to the pure M models of years gone by in terms of raw power and balance. "If you yearn for the original M3 model with its flair fenders, than the 2017 M2 is for you," he says. "A six-speed manual suspension is available for M2 drivers, Hasselmann notes. "It's so rare these days to have a car with a stick shift," he says. "The mechanical precision is among the best in its class. The sound is awesome."
The model sells for a starting price of $55,000. "This vehicle really appeals to drivers," he says. "The M2 is sold out for the year, but we are taking orders for next year."
Birchwood BMW also introduced BMW's 2017 X1 and 7-Series models at the gala. "The 2017 model is the most luxurious 7-Series model ever," Hasselmann says. "It is the first car in its class in the world which allows you to issue commands with just hand gestures." The 740i version is powered by a TwinPower turbocharged 3-L inline-6 that produces 320 hp. The 750i has a 4.4-L TwinPower turbocharged V-8 that produces 445 hp. For 2017, the 7-Series offers AWD for the 740i as well as in the 750i. The BMW M760i xDrive gets a twin-turbo twelve, making 600 hp. The model is also built largely with carbon fibre. The starting price for the 7-Series is $114,000.
"We have two or three models in stock," Hasselmann says.
Then there is the all-new X1, with its long-awaited new design. Hasselmann says the 2017 X1 is more efficient and more luxurious than its predecessors and is also slightly larger. "The older model was great for Europe, but small for Canada," he says. "The new model has a longer wheel base, a new interior and it is better-equipped. If you liked the older X1, you will love the new model." The starting price for the 2017 X1 is $38,800. Like the i8 and the GTS, there is only one model in stock at Birchwood BMW.
It was not only the cars that were new at Birchwood BMW on July 6. Also relatively new to the staff is Ben Kuilman, a recent graduate of the Asper School of Business. He joined the sales team in June after returning from a trip to Israel as a participant in the Arni Thorsteinson Study Exchange Program (which was established in 2006 at the University of Manitoba and is funded by the Gerald Schwartz & Heather Reisman Foundation). The goal of the program is to provide Canadian and Israeli business students, who are learning about international trade, with the opportunity to meet business leaders and be exposed to business practices.
Kuilman was one of 14 Manitoba business students and eight Israeli students from the Guilford Glazer School of Business at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. The Israeli students arrived at the beginning of May for two weeks to study international trade at the Asper School of Business. As part of the program, they met local companies and business stakeholders who deal with international trade. The entire group then travelled to Israel for two weeks, where they attended a course on international trade and innovation at Guilford Glazer.
"It was a great experience," Kuilman says. As for his new career, Kuilman says his fellow sales consultants have been very helpful in getting him started. "The guys here are great," he says. "I really enjoy meeting people."
Birchwood BMW is the winner of BMW Canada's Excellence in Overall Service Satisfaction Award for Western Canada. Birchwood had the highest year-over-year growth in vehicle sales and also ranked as the No. 1 volume BMW and BMW M Performance automobile dealer (non-metro) in Western Canada last year.
"We credit our record-breaking growth to our focus on delivering an outstanding customer experience," said Craig Becker, Birchwood BMW general manager. "The BMW brand is about innovation and creating emotion, enthusiasm, fascination and thrills for the driver. We set out to bring that same emotion, thrill and enthusiasm to the Birchwood BMW experience. It goes beyond the day you buy the car. We aim to deliver an outstanding experience each time you bring the vehicle in for service, detailing or repair.
They're the best in the west.
Birchwood BMW led all BMW dealerships in Western Canada in vehicle sales growth and customer service satisfaction, the company announced earlier this month. It also had the highest year-over-year growth in vehicle sales while ranking as the top BMW performance automobile dealer in terms of volume in the west.
The good sales news has continued into the first quarter of this year, with company officials noting they have again finished tops in the region for year-over-year sales growth.
"The BMW brand is about innovation and creating emotion, enthusiasm, fascination and thrills for the driver," said Craig Becker, Birchwood BMW's general manager, in a press release. "We set out to bring that same emotion, thrill and enthusiasm to the Birchwood BMW experience."
Birchwood BMW is located in the Pointe West Autopark.