BMW's M GmbH performance division recently has seen a significant transformation, launching important models like the X3 M, X4 M, and the M135i M Performance, all under the leadership of its new CEO, Markus Flasch. It represents a real change for the division, which formerly took a more orthodox purist approach, favoring naturally-aspirated straight-six engines, manual transmissions, and rear-wheel drive. Then the portfolio was expanded significantly to include — controversially — SUVs, turbocharged engines and all-wheel drive powertrains.

Today, M GmbH, located in the Daimlerstrasse in Garching just north of Munich, offers top-of-the-line, high-performance M models like the M2 Competition, M3, M3, and M8; the range also includes M versions of the X3, X4, X5 and X6 (with the X5 currently on hiatus). Below that, there is the range of M Performance models that slots between BMW's regular cars and the more aggressive M models. It includes models like the X2 M35i, the X3 and X4 M40i, the M550i, the M850i and the M760i. In Europe, BMW also offers diesel-powered M Performance versions, fitted with a straight-six that's force-fed by four turbochargers.

BMW X3 and X4 M

We spoke with Flasch at the media launch of the X3 M and X4 M in Florham Park/New Jersey.

Autoblog: Herr Flasch, how do you want to make a difference at M GmbH?

Flasch: We will follow our oath of success as the dominant high-performance brand. In the past, we have had the era of launching turbocharging and all-wheel drive, and if we look forward, my years will be the era of the brand's electrification.

AB: Have all-wheel drive and turbocharging helped M GmbH?

MF: Without a doubt. Both have strengthened the brand because we do not dogmatically embrace a technology but we do everything that makes our cars faster and enhances their performance. I stand for this kind of flexibility.

AB: What will electrification look like?

MF: We are evaluating all technologies, i.e. mild hybrids and plug-in hybrids, but also fully electric cars. And we help ourselves to the corporate parts bin, but we are not compelled to, because we obviously have different requirements. While BMW's regular cars are focused on electric range, our focus is on performance, and this means not just in a straight line, but also in corners. The performance needs to be reproducible and track-ready, and in some ways this requires different technological approaches. And that's why, just like with all-wheel-drive, we won't be the first high-performance brand to go electric. But [we will be] the best.

BMW M

AB: We were previously told that M and i represent two very distant poles that won't really go together. But if you are considering fully electric M models, won't they converge?

MF: Originally, BMW i stood for electric mobility, but now it symbolizes innovation, technology and a different way of thinking. There is no contradiction in having EVs for both sub-brands.

AB: Will you keep offering models without electrification?

MF: Here, too, we are flexible. We will not just flip a switch and I can imagine very well that, depending on the country and the model, we will continue to offer cars just with the internal combustion engine, parallel to our electrified models.

AB: You are also responsible for the twelve-cylinder engine. Does it have a future?

MF: Beyond what we have, I don't believe we will see a new twelve-cylinder model in the foreseeable future.

AB: Does diesel have a future?

MF: That depends not on the technology but on public opinion. The technology continues to be very attractive and personally, I could see a very long future for the diesel. But the discussion, unfortunately, is not conducted in a rational manner, and I am unable to foresee its result.

BMW M

AB: Could you do a high-performance M car with four cylinders?

MF: On principle, there is nothing wrong with such a project; even the DTM races with four cylinders now. But in the near future, we have nothing planned.

AB: Can you talk about your plans for the "Individual" customization business?

MF: For us, that is a field of growth that we will increasingly focus on. We can definitely make some changes in terms of design philosophy here. And I am especially fond of cooperation with artists here.

AB: What about the design of the M models?

MF: We will take the next step and become more extroverted, first with our M Performance models and then with the High-Performance M models.

AB: A word about the German autobahn, which is still free of a general speed limit: Would a speed limit be damaging?

MF: In my personal opinion: Yes, a speed limit would surely hurt the German economy. I am no friend of a culture of prohibiting.

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