With  latest models of BMW’s new 7-Series sedan about to be released this year, Helmut Panke, BMW (U.S.) Holding Corp. chairman and CEO, recollected how BMW employees were ordered to make last minute changes by a newly appointed chief engineer in 1985.  Despite initial grumblings the changes were made, and Dr. Panke praised BMW for not only being able to respond to change but for an ability of “creating change.”

“He told his design and production team to add 40mm. to the width,” Dr. Panke recalled at a meeting in Atlanta hosted by the company’s regional office and the local chapter of the German American Chamber of Commerce.  “They protested that it was too late in the process to make such changes and still meet the introduction date.  His response was simple —change the processes and meet the date.  They did.  To be successful, it can never be too late for change.”

The latest models of the 7-Series will go on sale in the United States next month, and the company’s sales figures in North America will continue to climb with more BMWs sold on the continent in 1994 than last year.

During his speech at the BMW Southern Region offices in Dunwoody,  he admitted that the last minute revisions could not have been undertaken if the company had not invested significantly in CAD-CAM technology in the early 1980s.  Throughout his remarks he insisted on the necessity of any business remaining innovative to stay ahead of market trends.

As proof of BMW’s innovative planning he pointed to its new partnership with Rolls Royce to create aero-engines that will require less fuel and make less noise; its acquisition of Rover so that it can compete in the front-wheel drive market; and its current research into hydrogen or electric powered cars.

He also said that the company’s decision to locate a plant in Greer, S.C. in 1992 changed “the rules of the game” for its European suppliers, breaking up the long established relationships that had developed between the Munich-based company and hundreds of companies in its region.

What was considered a radical step as recently as two years ago was prompted by a re-evaluation of the company’s long-term strategy which began in 1989 when Lexus entered its luxury market with a car priced $15,000 lower than the comparable BMW.

For more information, Barbara Heep-Richter, BMW’s corporate combinations manager, may be reached at (201) 307-3786.