BMW is zooming along nicely in Japan despite the recession,
their Japan Corp President Ludwig Willisch tells Chris Betros.
|The Z4 leads the change
into Japan for BMW
While there is a trend among Japanese automakers to go for
kawaii cars recently, you won't find any of that at BMW.
Innovative, exclusive, joythose
are the words the German automaker associates with its models
and which have helped it achieve steady growth despite the
Even in a recession, people go for quality, and that
includes premium cars, says Ludwig Wilhelm Willisch,
president of BMW Japan (www.bmw.co.jp)
since January. We have been able to move separately
from the general market trend, which is clearly downward.
The small, cheap cars at the very bottom end of the market
and the premium segment are growing at twice the pace of everything
else. BMW has been able to avoid the stuck-in-the-middle segment.
Statistically, most of BMW's customers are in their 40s,
but the company's main focus is what it calls young
urbanites. Women are a growing core group, particularly
for the new 3-series cars and motorcycles. We have an
extremely high loyalty rate among them, which is helping us
survive the recession, says Willisch.
is all about new ideas.
Having the MINI brand doesn't hurt, either, especially
in this country of narrow streets and cramped parking spaces
where the need for a car that can whizz in and out of tight
spots is evident. Yes, the MINI is about excitement.
It has a different target group altogether with a marketing
setup tailored for that. You will hardly ever see an ad for
the MINI in a business magazine, explains Willisch,
who likes to go out and see how dealers are displaying their
BMWs and MINIs. One of my mottos is you only get one
chance to give a first impression. The car business is a people
business. We just don't open doors, put some cars in
there and wait for customers to come in. There has to be a
That relationship has been going on in Japan since 1981, when
BMW first set up shop here. Currently, the company markets
38 models of cars, three different MINI models, and 13 BMW
motorcycles in Japan. Last year it sold 36,266 cars and 2,801
bikes here. As of August, the BMW group held a 17 percent
share of the imported car market (second behind Mercedes Benz).
Its model range includes the 3-series (sedan, touring, coupe,
and cabriolet), the 7-series (top-of-the-line, long-bodied
sedan), X5, Z3 (roadster, coupe), Z8 and M models. From 2003,
it will take over the Rolls Royce brand and offer a completely
One reason why BMW is averse to the cute trend
is because the life cycle of its cars is longer, says Willisch.
We don't follow any short-term trend. We follow
our own design philosophy. We like to create trends ourselves
but certainly not by making cute cars. Two such new
ventures are exclusive BMW credit cards and environmentally
friendly cars. In 2001, the BMW Clean Energy World Tour brought
to Japan the 750hL hydrogen car.
Headquartered at Makuhari in Chiba, BMW is in an ideal location.
All vehicles arrive at the nearby center in Matsuo, where
they go through strict inspection and pre-delivery treatment.
Back-up is provided by a nearby parts center with an integrated
inventory management and supply system. From there, the cars
are sent to the 84 BMW dealers, 61 MINI dealers and 57 motorcycle
showrooms throughout the country. Delivery time varies, but
it's around eight weeks if you order a car not on the
showroom floor. Cars can be ordered online, too.
The only downside to being out at Makuhari is the commuting
time; Willisch, for example, spends about 60-75 minutes each
day shuttling (in a BMW 745Li, of course) from his home in
Seta. (It's a good chance to study Japanese,
he reckons.) However, the location hasn't affected BMW's
popularity among job seekers. Around 1,000 work for BMW in
Japan, and applications still come in.
Sometimes I like to be hands-on, other times I have
to pull myself back, Willisch says of his management
style. I'm focused on the merit system. We give
each individual feedback about their performance during the
year and show them a career path for the future. No one should
stay in any one job for too long. You don't want someone
in the same job for 15-20 years. BMW is all about new ideas.
Photos credits: Courtesy of
BMW Japan; Chris Betros