Car manufacturers use product to flex their corporate muscle. The latest supercar or luxury sedan indicates where they see themselves in the automotive world order and helps them keep their competitors in check. Extensions of this typically include motorsport, where a manufacturer can show it's even better than we imagined, by beating all opposition on a Sunday afternoon.
Yet for some car companies, even this is insufficient. They want to get their message across without risk of it being diluted. So some are turning to more ambitious projects.
During a trip to Tokyo last year, we visited Mega Web, a Toyota theme park where you could sample the brand from many different perspectives. However, that was child's play compared to BMW Welt.
Opened one week before our visit, the breathtaking Munich monolith was built alongside BMW's "Four Cylinder" world headquarters, car plant and museum. It's perhaps the most impressive manufacturer muscle flex we've ever witnessed.
The Welt was designed to signify the strong presence of the BMW brand, while offering a cathedral-like showroom for all its models, showcase technology and facilitate vehicle handover to customers.
The handover service allows American customers to collect their car as part of the European Delivery program arranged through the dealership when you buy your BMW. You pay for your flight and hotel, but once in Munich, they treat you like royalty.
Up to 250 owners per day are greeted at the Welt reception and taken to a very special area at the top of the Welt, where they plan your itinerary for the day. There's a business lounge to enjoy while you wait, but you're encouraged to enjoy the Welt museum and factory tour as well.
At a designated time, you're taken to a room where your car's technology is explained using touchscreen tables and a driving simulator. Then, you're escorted to your car, which is waiting on the mid-level.
As you approach, the car is illuminated by spotlights and revolves on a turntable. A further 30min are spent explaining the controls of your car. If you have luggage, it's loaded for you. You then drive around the building on a special surface that eliminates tire squeal before descending to the exterior to enjoy the rest of your vacation with the car - special tours can be arranged throughout Europe upon request.
At a pre-arranged date, you return your car to the Welt, hop on a plane home and the car will join you after its ocean voyage to the states.
Incidentally, BMWNA also offers customer handover at its Spartanburg, SC facility if you don't want the expense of traveling to Europe. They provide a hotel and even driver tuition on their own test track during the day. Again, this must be scheduled through your dealer.
A total of 275 architects competed to design BMW Welt and Coop Himmelb(l)au won the contract with this "dynamic and challenging" building. It's an incredibly imposing edifice, both from the outside and in. The extraordinary internal space overwhelms and seems to absorb sound, creating a reverential hush.
Around the ground floor you'll find an example of every BMW vehicle, along with a technology area where you can prod and poke things. There's also a children's area with some interactive zones where you can leave your offspring while you enjoy one of the four excellent eating areas or browse the store. There is also an area devoted to BMW motorbikes, while the vehicle handover area dominates the center of the building.
With a theater, conference rooms, restaurants and a second "Double Cone" exhibition area, BMW wants the Welt to be a community space. You can rent areas for business or simply wander in from the nearby underground train station. The Welt is free to enter and will be open 360 days a year. There are 38 guides to answer your questions and it's open from 9am to 7pm; the restaurants remain open until 1am, however. A series of concerts and exhibitions are also scheduled, so be sure to check the website.
In addition to the Welt, BMW has expanded its museum to be five times larger, and both will be connected to the adjacent factory by a skybridge. And if you book a pre-arranged tour of the plant, you'll see every aspect of 3-Series production, from pressing the body panels to painting and final assembly.
With the Olympic stadium across the street, there has never been more reasons to explore southern Germany and immerse yourself in the BMW brand.
Visit www.bmw-welt.com to find out more about the Welt and museum, and to arrange a factory tour.