BMW is a German luxury brand synonymous with sport-oriented models. Although BMW's humble beginnings were in aviation, the automaker now has a full range of premium passenger cars and SUVs, not to mention motorcycles. For customers even more intent on exploring their vehicles' limits, BMW's M division adds a serious dose of sporting pretensions to nearly every model.
In North America, BMW's lineup is anchored by its mainstream...
3-Series sedan, coupe and convertible line and its X3 crossover, but the automaker also offers models more clearly aimed at enthusiasts like the Z4 roadster, with its folding metal hardtop, and the potent M4 coupe. At the top end of the range, BMW has had considerable success broadening its appeal by focusing on its tech-laden 7-Series luxury sedan, but it has never ventured into the uppermost reaches of the premium realm like cross-Germany rival Mercedes-Benz.
Known to many for its ultra-smooth inline six-cylinder powertrains, BMW has begun adapting to increasingly stringent global emissions standards by focusing on downsized turbocharged engines, svelte aerodynamic bodies and even electric propulsion. These techniques have come together in the BMW's new "i" sub-brand, which markets the i3 - the automaker's first full-electric vehicle - and the shapely i8 hybrid sports car.
BMW builds most of its cars in Germany, but the automaker opened an assembly plant in South Carolina in the mid-1990s that has, over the years, been utilized for both its entry-level 3-Series and its X3 and X5 range of crossovers. As a result, some of BMW's product lineup has begun to take a noticeably more North American-oriented feel, especially in the plusher, roomier X3. BMW was also an early player in the burgeoning Chinese market, where it operates a large plant with domestic automaker Brilliance.
Shares in BMW are closely held by the Quandt family, which stays out of day-to-day business but has steered the automaker in an ever-growing direction for more than 50 years.