Arial view of BMW Welt at night – photo courtesy BMW. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site
Review and photos by Jil McIntosh
A Visit to BMW Welt
Munich, Germany – Munich is an old city, and there are relatively few tall buildings spread across its face. So not only does the visitor notice a landmark by its unusual design, but also by its height: along with the tower of the Munich Olympic Park across the street, the “four cylinders” of BMW’s headquarters dominate the skyline. And as you get closer, you see that it’s only part of the massive complex, which also includes the company’s auto assembly plant, museum and BMW Welt (World), which opened to the public in October 2007.
Part showroom, part classroom, with several restaurants and a delivery centre, BMW Welt is strictly about the company’s current products (just as the BMW Museum, which I’ll cover in a separate story, looks back at its history). It’s also a hot spot for tourists, and in less than nine months from its opening, it had logged some 1.6 million visitors.
The Double Cone and BMW Velt – the spire in the background is the site of the 1972 Olympics (top); The presentation floor, visible to all guests but accessible only to those taking delivery of their vehicles. Click image to enlarge
As I was in Munich for a personal vacation, BMW arranged for me to tour the Welt and Museum, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the public areas, the delivery process, and even a trip to the “basement” to see what happens before customers are united with their purchases.
Spectacularly designed by Professor Wolf D. Prix, the Welt’s striking exterior is anchored by the Double Cone, which is used to showcase cars and is also available for special exhibitions and events, such as concerts, social functions and cultural exhibits. The impressive architecture continues in the main building, which contains a presentation centre, educational and interactive displays, a “children’s campus” where young visitors can learn about cars, four restaurants, a motorcycle display, and stores selling BMW-branded merchandise. Beyond the public areas, there are also private boardrooms and meeting areas.
While the public is welcome in most areas of the building (it’s free to enter, with a small charge if you want an 80-minute guided tour), a central level is visible from the public area, but actually open to only a select few who have opted for a special delivery package of their brand-new BMW vehicles.
In deference to its dealers, BMW does not sell any vehicles at the Welt; there are employees ready to offer information on any of the models on display, but there are no salespeople. Those who want the Welt delivery must first place the order and purchase the car at a dealership.
The delivery experience is currently available for European and U.S. customers. “It’s not yet available for Canada, but we’re working on it for the future,” said Helmut Pöschl, from Public Relations at BMW Welt. “A major task is including French.” The service is an extra €457 on top of the car’s price, but it’s in place of the standard delivery fee, and it’s available on any BMW built in Germany.
I had the opportunity follow Steve and Karen Fenton of Scottsdale, Arizona, as they went through the process. The couple, who had arrived in Germany that morning, were taking delivery of a 550i that was their third BMW; they’d decided to combine their new car with a vacation, and would drive it to Salzburg before returning it to BMW’s shipping department to be sent to California, where they would pick it up in Los Angeles.
Delivery started in the Product Information Room, where they were shown a computer model of their vehicle, right down to the exterior colour, options and rims they had ordered; if the car had been intended for a German buyer, the license plate would have matched also. (The Fentons’ car carried temporary plates that let them drive it in Germany; the rear plate is destroyed when the car is shipped to the U.S., but they keep the front plate as a souvenir.) From there, they moved to a small room that contains a “simulator” – a steering wheel and brake pedal that make a computerized car on a screen steer and stop, to illustrate the various safety features on the car, such as its anti-lock brakes.
It was then time to go down to the delivery floor, visible to Welt public visitors but accessible only to those picking up their vehicles. The cars are already on turntables as the new owners walk down the stairs, but as luck would have it, the Fentons’ car was right at the foot of the ramp, and the first car they saw was their own. Once on the delivery floor, they were photographed with the car (a framed copy was given to them before they left), and then all the car’s functions were explained before they were given a chance to start it, drive a circle around the floor, and then go down a ramp to hit the open road.
Cars are prepped in the Velt’s basement (top); For safety reasons, cars are stored in an area with very little oxygen, which eliminates the need for bulky fire walls in the building – this car is in the air lock Click image to enlarge
The Fentons’ car was one of between 75 and 100 that are delivered on an average day; like all of them, it had come in the day before and spent the night in the basement. Although it’s hard to believe, given the size of the Welt building’s size, there is 60 per cent more underground than there is above ground; this is where all of the down-and-dirty work happens before the cars are brought up for delivery.
It starts with a tunnel, where delivery trucks bring in the vehicles, some of them built directly across the street. The cars are inspected and washed, and from there, they go into one of 284 warehouse spaces. “The system is all automatic, and the warehouse has a 40 per cent reduction of oxygen,” Pöschl said. “This prevents ignition and the possibility of a fire, because the cars are gassed up when they are stored. The alternative would be to build firewalls, which reduces space.” Each car is driven into an airlock; once the driver is out of the lock, it is closed, the oxygen is reduced, and then an automatic system takes the vehicle to its place in the many columns of cars.
The Welt, which opened in 2007, began construction in 2003. “It took one year just to put in the basement,” Pöschl said. “There are 175 anchors to hold the building in place. There is groundwater here and during construction, they had to pump out water that was equivalent to the Olympia Park Lake. But it was worth it. We get collectors from around the world. We even had a wedding here recently. The people were from the U.S., and they got their car and drove it out. She spent the whole day in her wedding dress.”
For more information, visit BMW-Welt.com.