The soaring steel-and-glass building in Munich, Germany, looks like a new concert hall, museum or even a cathedral. It's really a car-delivery center.
But BMW World selling any simple sedan. It is promoting what its makers promote as "the ultimate driving experience." Since opening last October, the company's architecturally dramatic building close to Munich's Olympic Park has become one of the Bavarian capital's signatures, attracting more than a million visitors.
BMW World is part of a larger trend of how German car makers are leveraging their powerful brands into star tourist attractions. During the past two years, both Daimler Benz(DAI) in Stuttgart and BMW in Munich have opened spectacular new showcases.
BMW will open another museum in June, and Porsche in the process of polishing a new museum scheduled to debut later this year.
Forget the old image of a fusty car museum. These new German showcases aim to support the luxury brand images of their owners, while entertaining and instructing potential customers.BMW World is chock full of BMW's latest wheels, as well as exhibits at which enthusiasts can learn about engines, fuel admissions, car design and even the yachts the automaker builds and sponsors for international competitions. The center also hosts concerts and sparkling restaurants and cafes.
To a certain extent, the auto showcases display over-the-top shameless commercialism. They double as theme parks and offer no critical analysis of the auto's role in modern society. Even though German luxury car makers are Europe's worst environmental polluters of the continent's auto makers, the museums do nothing but praise how hard the companies are working to clean up.
The corporate self promotion can be off-putting, but no one can deny the new buildings exhibit a striking allure.
German car companies are rich and ambitious enough to employ top-flight architects. Wolf Prix of the Vienna-based architectural firm Coop Himmelb(l)au designed BMW World. The Munich-based company also hired Zaha Hadid to build its factory in Leipzig, while Daimler picked the Dutch firm UNStudio to build its Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. All have produced glittering edifices that put theater back into the old-fashioned idea of a car museum and sales shop.