BMW gave journalists a special treat on the way to the Spanish island of Mallorca for the S1000R press launch—a quick side trip to its main motorcycle manufacturing facility in Berlin to witness the start of production for the R nineT, an new model created to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the firm’s iconic boxer-twin engine. This was the last of seven new bike launches for BMW in 2013, capping a remarkably prolific and significant year for BMW Motorrad.
BMW’s first boxer-powered motorcycle, the R32, debuted at the Berlin Auto Salon in 1923. The spare R nineT—or nineT for short—honors that first model with rich black lacquer paint, a compact, steel-trellis frame, and, of course, the air-cooled boxer-twin engine. With café-racer styling and modular construction that encourages customization, BMW hopes the nineT will attract younger, more “emotional” customers—perhaps the opposite of the typical pragmatic BMW buyer. Attracting new, younger customers is a top priority for BMW, emphasized BMW Motorrad President Stephan Schaller in a speech at this event.
Like every motorcycle manufacturer operating in today’s challenging economy, BMW is intensely focused on generating new growth—both by extending existing product into new market segments with variants like the nineT, and also by developing new products to gain a foothold in emergent markets. Schaller publically stated a goal to “double BMW’s production volume”—currently around 100,000 motorcycles per year—through a combination of new model development and an aggressive program of global expansion. BMW Head of Production Marc Sielemann joined American journalists later for a private lunch interview and detailed BMW’s rapidly expanding complete-knockdown (CKD) assembly operations that facilitate bike sales in Thailand and Brazil (the latter which will deliver “five-digit” unit sales next year, Sielemann says), as well as breaking news of a planned line of under-500cc “urban mobility” motorcycles developed in conjunction with Indian partner TVS—the first of which will appear “in not too many years,” Sielemann said.
Schaller’s speech was followed by a tour of the nineT production line at the Berlin factory, a historic site where every BMW motorcycle since 1969—more than 2,000,000 and counting—has been made. Measuring more than 220,000 meters square, the Berlin factory employs 1900 people working two shifts to produce 600 bikes per day. The nineT is one of 22 models presently produced at this site and, thanks to the nineT’s emphasis on hand crafted details, it’s one of the most time-consuming models to build. The aluminum fuel tank is especially impressive. Constructed using an innovative “cold metal transfer” welding process then painstakingly hand brushed and partially covered in a rich black lacquer finish, it’s a piece of art unlike anything on another production motorcycle. The crowning touch is a stamped headtube plate, inspired by a similar piece on the original R32, that is hand-riveted onto each individual nineT frame.
Stylish and functional, classic looking yet technologically advanced, and built using a combination of cutting-edge manufacturing and old-fashioned hand labor, the nineT is a perfect tribute to 90 years of BMW motorcycle manufacturing. Seeing it come to life at the historic Berlin factory, accompanied by news of BMW’s ambitious plans for global expansion and new product development, give us good reason to anticipate another 90 years of brilliant bikes.