BMW is often associated with luxury cars, and if that’s what you associate with the brand, you wouldn’t be wrong to think that. What you may not know though, is BMW is much more than that, and BMW’s story of how it came to be is a story of resilience, rebounding, pivoting, and a great logo.
BMW is an acronym for “Bayerische Motoren Werke.” The three words that make up “BMW” are pieces of each of the names of the three companies that came together to form this iconic brand. Along with this name comes BMW’s slogan “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” and the logo that you can likely pick out from a lineup. While you may know this already, there is much more to know though.
So, if you’re looking for some pointers from a brand that’s been around for more than 100 years, then you came to the right place. Throughout this article, we’ll take a deeper dive into BMW’s history, how the company’s logo came to be, and how you can implement some of BMW’s successes into your own business.
To become more acquainted with the BMW brand, it’s important to take a look at the founders of the brand: Karl Rapp, Franz Josef Popp, and Camillo Castiglioni. All three founders are native to Europe – Rapp was born in Ehingen, Germany, Popp was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, and Castiglioni was born in Trieste, Austria-Hungary.
Rapp is credited as also being the founder of Rapp Motorenwerke, an airplane engine-making company, which is what BMW started as. Because of this, Rapp is often credited as being the “official” founder of BMW. Popp served as the first General Director of BMW and helped build the brand’s foundation. The final founder, Castiglioni went on to become the richest man in Central Europe and served as BMW’s financial officer.
The three founders collectively helped to grow BMW into what it is today, which we will touch upon in later sections.
BMW has been around for more than 100 years, but the most pivotal time of BMW’s evolution took place during the first ~50 years. Below we recap everything you need to know about the early days of BMW.
1913: Rapp Motorenwerke is founded
Rapp Motorenwerke was founded by Karl Rapp in 1913 and was founded as a company that produced airplane engines. At the time, this business was timely as it was tasked to manufacture 600 engines for the Prussian army. Rapp was eventually forced out of this company and the company was renamed, Bayerische Motorenwerke. Rapp was forced out because there was another company with a similar focus (Gustav Otto Flugmaschinenfabrik), formed by Gustav Otto, a Bavarian pilot. This competitor experienced some financial troubles and was sold. With the sale, Otto’s company was renamed Bayerische Fahrzeugfabrik.
1916: BMW is formed
With Rapp’s departure from his original company, he took Rapp Motorenwerke and merged it with the new company, Bayerische Motorenwerke, and Bayerische Fahrzeugfabrik to officially form BMW.
1918-1923: BMW creates its first products
BMW’s first product was the BMW IIIa, produced in 1918. The early days of BMW were still tied to manufacturing engines, and after World War I and the ban on aircraft engine production, BMW branched out to produce motorcycle engines and railway brakes. This led BMW to create its first motorcycle model in 1923, called R 32.
1928: BMW purchases Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach
After successfully building a motorcycle, BMW decided to purchase Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach in 1928. This acquisition allowed the company to test the waters of automobile production. These first automobile models were produced at a plant in Thuringia, Germany. One year later, in 1929, BMW received a license from the Austin Motor Company and BMW was allowed to begin producing smaller models.
1933: Aircraft production receives financial support
Once the ban on aircraft engine production was lifted, financial support for the production of aircrafts was provided by the German government in 1933. To respond to this demand, aircraft engine production became the top focus of BMW yet again.
1935: BMW ramps up their motorcycle production
After BMW’s first motorcycle model, the company continued producing motorcycles and in 1935, BMW produced more than 10,000 units. A few years later, the demand for motorcycles continued and BMW was producing 100,000 units each year.
Post-World War II: BMW needs a new home
Following World War II, BMW needed to set up its roots elsewhere. The BMW plant was destroyed during the War and the company was forced to pivot after another ban on automobile and motorcycle production was reinstated.
1947: BMW produces motorcycles and automobiles again
This motorcycle ban was lifted in 1947 and then five years later, BMW was also allowed to resume its automobile production. Their new models included the R 24 motorcycle and the BMW 501, and the sports car, sedan, convertible, and coupe models.
The 1950s: BMW goes through a restructuring
While BMW was expanding its product line, the company was still experiencing some hardships. To help with this, the German government offered some short-term support and Herbert Quandt purchased more shares of the company, to obtain more ownership power. With Quandt’s leadership, BMW unveiled a new automobile at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1961, the 1500 model.
Roadblocks Along the Way:
Car owners are loyal to certain brands. Some families like reliable car brands with a strong reputation like Toyota, Honda, or Subaru. Other families like flashier SUVs like a Range Rover, Audi, or Tesla. For BMW, their audience falls on the luxury side of the spectrum and appealing to those customers who are longstanding Toyota lovers, is a constant challenge.
Beyond that, as displayed through BMW’s evolution, the company had to regularly pivot due to government constraints and the repercussions of World War I and II. BMW pivoted its focus and shifted what it produced to stay afloat. By pivoting, the company was able to return to producing what it wanted to produce (motorcycles and automobiles) once the bans were lifted and the government pressure subsided.
The Meaning of BMW’s Logo and BMW’s Logo History
During BMW’s evolution, BMW’s logo went through six different iterations. Below we take a closer look at each one of these redesigns.
1913: The first (and only) version of the Rapp logo
Before BMW was BMW, the brand operated under a different name, Rapp. Rapp also had a different business focus, which was creating aircraft engines. This first logo included a silhouette of a horse, two stars, curved lines, and a black frame. The horse was likely chosen to emphasize how fast their engines could be.
1917: The first version of the BMW logo
This first iteration of the BMW logo still paid homage to its aircraft roots, by including four quadrants that resembled an aircraft propeller. These quadrants were still framed like the prior Rapp logo, but other design features, like the horse silhouette, were omitted.
1933: The second version of the BMW logo
Almost twenty years after the initial BMW logo was designed, BMW decided to update this logo. For this redesign, the brand played around with the circular frames and how the brand’s name was displayed at the top.
1953: The third version of the BMW logo
Another twenty years after the first logo update, BMW decided to redesign the BMW logo a second time. Instead of some of the thick features that were previously included, the design team used thinner outlines and played around with color shading and highlighting.
1963: The fourth version of the BMW logo
This iteration of the logo was more exciting than the last version and included contrasting colors to make the features of the logo more exciting and attractive. With these updates, the logo popped a bit more.
1997: The fifth version of the BMW logo
It wasn’t until the 90’s that the logo was redesigned yet again. This version had a 3D effect which tied into modern times. The updates to this design helped the logo appear more distinct, powerful, and modern, and helped make the quadrants stand out more.
2020: The sixth (and current) version of the BMW logo
The current BMW logo you know today is this iteration. This design includes 2D elements and the black frame that was formally used, was updated to be a thick white frame. Other changes were also related to how the brand’s name was displayed and related to the lines and outlines. Overall, this version is minimal and clean.
BMW’s logo font:
Even though BMW’s logo font was updated, the updates were never drastic. The original logo font was a serif variation and when the brand wanted a more modern choice, the font was updated to simply be a different sans-serif variation. The original font was bolder than the current font, which is more simplistic with its features.
BMW’s logo color:
Displayed on the BMW logo are three colors. These colors were chosen to pay homage to the Bavarian flag. The only difference between the colors of the flag and the colors of this logo is that BMW has inverted the colors to be compliant with trademark laws.
The first color, black, is often used to convey elegance, luxury, and power. By choosing this color choice, BMW is emphasizing its place in the luxury car industry. A second color, white, is used for balance. White is a color that often conveys purity, cleanliness, safety, wholeness, and goodness. The final prominent color on the logo is blue. Blue is a color choice often used to signify trust, calmness, and peacefulness.
The only other color that isn’t mentioned that is sometimes included on the logo is the font color which varies between white, black, silver, and gold.
BMW’s logo symbols:
At first glance, it may be difficult to decipher what the BMW logo symbol depicts. Some think it resembles a propeller, others think that it resembles a chess board, and others think it is just a unique design that was created for the brand. Whatever you think the symbol resembles, you’ll see that the symbol is comprised of circles and quadrants. The circle was used to convey unity and infinity. This relates to the brand’s mission of being loyal to its customers, and how the brand has been around for over 100 years. In addition to the circle, the logo features four quadrants.
For those that believe it resembles a propeller, that is likely because the brand’s history is tied to the aircraft engine industry. For those that believe it looks like a chess board, that likely symbolizes the brand’s focus on being the top competitor in the automobile space.
Many automobiles on the market are developed by car manufacturers that have been in the industry for a long time. BMW is no exception. Since BMW’s entrance into this space, the brand has grown to include 31 production and assembly facilities across 15 countries. Expanding beyond Germany, these facilities are also in the United States, China, and Mexico.
BMW’s product line includes more than just the standard BMW vehicles you are familiar with. The brand is also the owner of the MINI and the Roll-Royce. With a repertoire that includes all three of these luxury brands, BMW has solidified its spot as the world’s leading maker of luxury automobiles.
Today, BMW employs over 125,000 workers and has sales in nearly 140 countries. BMW was valued at $20.5 billion in 2020 and in 2019, the company produced more than 2.5 million automobiles. BMW is part of BMW Group and is owned jointly by the public and the Quandt family.
Lessons Learned from BMW
Not all companies you encounter is a company that has survived not one, but two, World Wars overseas. But for BMW, this company has done that. Because of that, it’s worth looking at some lessons you can learn from the brand, particularly with its logo design which is one of the most widely recognizable logos in the car industry.
When you look at BMW’s logo design, you’ll notice that the logo is simple, without sacrificing its uniqueness. The brand’s logo doesn’t have elaborate features or too much clutter. When a customer looks at BMW’s logo it doesn’t take time to decode what you are looking at and that logo is immediately associated with this iconic brand. Because of this simple design, BMW has been able to build brand awareness that is distinct and stands out from the competitors in the market. All of this also means that BMW’s logo is memorable because of these simple elements, and it is attractive due to its color choices and well-balanced elements. Finally, BMW’s logo is incredibly versatile, with the ability to easily scale up and down, no matter what marketing medium the logo appears on.
Having a logo that stands out from competitors and can stand the test of time is no easy feat. But if you weren’t aware, there are companies out there that can help you craft a logo that can do just that! By sharing your vision with creatives across the globe, these companies will work with you on providing you with logo options until you find the perfect one! With companies like that, any business stands a chance of giving BMW a run for its money!