An efficient car is not a million miles away from the characteristics of a top athlete

Monday, 26 March 2012
By David Owen

David OwenAutomotive partnerships are intriguing beasts in the Olympic sponsorship menagerie: highly visible at Games-time through the thousands-strong fleet of cars that ferry many of the cogs in the Olympic machine around, they are nonetheless not part of the TOP worldwide sponsorship programme.

This has precluded any one carmaker from forging the sort of long-term bonds with the Olympic Movement established by the likes of Coca-Cola and Omega.

It is interesting in this context to consider what it was that made the German vehicle manufacturer BMW decide that London 2012 was the right event for it to step up to the plate in.

After all, as Richard Hudson, BMW Group UK's sales director, told me, German companies do not generally do anything without a "clear methodology".

If there was one key word underpinning the decision, it was probably "sustainability".

"LOCOG (London 2012) were looking for a car partner...that had great sustainability credentials," Hudson said.

This is a strong suit for BMW, which makes much of its "efficient dynamics" programme – an operation that focuses on securing maximum performance for minimal energy expenditure.

According to Hudson (pictured), BMW has also won the premium automobile manufacturer category of something called the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the past seven years.

richard hudson_bmw_26-03-12
"The Rolls-Royce plant in Goodwood recycles all of its water," he told me.

After making sure that sponsor and sponsorship, er, vehicle were singing from the same "sustainability" song-sheet, the other key questions were: logistically, could BMW support the exercise, and did its presence in the UK market justify playing such a high-profile role in a London Games?

The answer to both of these was a self-evident "Yes".

As Hudson told me: "We are one of the biggest employers in the car industry in the UK [with around 7,000 direct employees and nearly 50,000 people in the UK if you include car dealers].

"The economic impact of BMW in the UK is equivalent to 1p on income tax."

How will the concept of sustainability manifest itself in the specific context of a Summer Olympics, which, when all is said and done, requires a pretty spectacular mobilisation of resources of all kinds to carry off successfully?

The chief yardstick seems to be the measurement of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Average CO2 emissions of all cars in the London 2012 fleet will, I am told, be about 115 grams per kilometre.

(Not my specialist subject, but I am led to believe this is extremely low.)

BMW i_26-03-12
BMW will supply around 4,000 vehicles for the Olympic fleet all told, 2,800-3,000 of which will be BMWs or Minis, the rest specialist vehicles of one kind or another such as people-carriers.

According to Hudson, these will include electric Minis and Mini Countrymen, as well as a BMW 320 diesel whose CO2 emission rate is 109g/km and versions of the BMW 3 Series and 5 Series.

Car-buffs will have noticed: no Rolls-Royces – with the possible exception of the Mini, the most quintessentially British car-brand of them all.

In Hudson's words, this is because "it is an operational fleet used 24 hours a day" and the most appropriate vehicles for that purpose are required.

A Rolls-Royce, he said, was "a super-luxury reward".

The most visible manifestation of the sponsorship I am aware of so far is a quartet of sumptuously produced short films, available on YouTube, that explore parallels between British Olympic and Paralympic athletes and BMW's approach to carmaking.

Hudson sees these, in part, as a way of telling BMW's "efficient dynamics" story "without ramming it down people's throats", via a medium – short film – in which the company has an established tradition of excellence.

The core insight is that the business of achieving maximum performance for minimal energy expenditure is as critical to athletic achievement as it is to carmaking.

"That is what athletes' performance is about," Hudson explained.

"So that whole mantra fits very nicely."

The company has also involved 150 UK athletes – some who will be at London 2012, some who are prospects for Rio 2016 – in its BMW London 2012 Performance Team.

Why so many?

Because, according to Hudson, "Our dealers all want to be their local hero".

With so many athletes to choose from, they can be.

BMW Group_Pavilion_26-03-12
The company has also put much thought into its Olympic Park pavilion, which is to be on the river, close to the Aquatics Centre.

Built on two storeys, the construction will feature an external water-curtain that will help keep it cool and will be, Hudson says, "an open, democratic pavilion", not a VIP lounge or a car showroom.

The open upper-floor will incorporate canopies where two new BMWs and two new Mini models will be on display.

The BMWs will be part of a new BMW i sub-brand to be launched in 2013 – the i3 electric city car and the i8, a new-generation hybrid.

David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 World Cup. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed here.
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