The German car brands Mercedes and BMW are probably one of the biggest rivals in the international automotive market. In 2016, BMW celebrated its centenary – and a century of technological rivalry with Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz. In the newspapers, Benz, who can claim the invention of the car in 1886, congratulated the Bavarian enemy in an ironic way: “Thanks for 100 years of competition. The 30 years before were pretty boring.” Both major car makers have been competing on technical aspects, the engine and design, as well as on sales figures over the last few years. But let’s take a closer look on each of them.
Innovations from both giants
Since the foundation of BMW, the two German giants have claimed the title of “the most innovative company” and some incredible cars and technologies have been created over the years due to the rivalry of the two big car brands.
Things began to “get hot” in the 1950s, when Mercedes-Benz developed its 300SL Gullwing, the first in-line engine with injection. BMW has made the 507 Roadster, one of the most beautiful cars ever made. Unfortunately, the production costs of the BMW 507 were too high, so the car was too expensive to sell. This brought BMW even close to bankruptcy. The model was not sold very well, only a handful of very wealthy people could afford to buy it. Elvis Presley was one of the owners of a BMW 507.
But in 1960 BMW invented with the 2002 model a small sports sedan, which is the basis for the production of the first European-made turbocharged engine: the 2002 Turbo.
In 1972, BMW shocked the world with the all-electric 1602, one of the first electric cars in the world, presented at the Munich Olympics. This proves that BMW has been in the electric car industry way longer than Tesla.
After the 1602e, the two companies fought a fierce battle for decades.
After Mercedes-Benz invented the ABS Anti-Lock Brake System, both brands tried to prove their dominance with the BMW E30 and M3 and the Mercedes-Benz 190e and developed an integral traction system for their sports sedans (to compete with Audi). Mercedes-Benz brought the first luxury SUV to the market, and BMW followed a few years later. But BMW invented the first infotainment system with iDrive, which, despite having been challenged at first, has become the gold standard in infotainment systems.
Now, the two companies are competing in the field of electric vehicles and in terms of autonomous driving. The two German giants have been over a decade in continuous rivalry, and this competition has shaped the automotive industry and contributed to the creation of new inventions, technologies and concepts for the future.
War of sales
In 2003, Mercedes-Benz had the highest sales, surpassing the BMW Group (including the Mini brand). The difference between Mercedes-Benz and BMW was not so big, so the Bavarians decided that they could and should go for the market leadership . The BMW group took advantage of the fact that Mercedes-Benz seemed to have laughed on victory and managed in 2008 to sell more cars than Mercedes-Benz.
Both parties have been hardly hit by the crisis, but since 2010, competition was even more fierce, with Mercedes-Benz making the least sales – largely due to the slow image shift, resulting from the launch of new models.
In 2013, the BMW Group was world-renowned, with almost double sales figures compared to 2004, and Mercedes-Benz “managed” to reach the top three. In fact, the differences between the two brands was not that big, with BMW exceeding Mercedes-Benz with just 100,000 units, including the Mini brand.
The sales situation in January-April 2014 was as follows: BMW: 569,100 units sold (+ 11%) and Mercedes-Benz: 507,353 units sold (+ 15%).
Best January in Mercedes history
The ranking changed in 2016. Mercedes became the world’s largest premium car manufacturer. In addition, Mercedes and BMW started 2017 with a sales record in January, while their rival Audi reported a steep drop of 13% to just 124,000 units.
Mercedes reported sales of more than 178,000 units in January 2017, which is 18.3% more than the same period in 2016. It was the best January in the entire Mercedes history, and the results are due to consistent Chinese growth: 59,000 units (+39%). On the other hand, European sales increased by 12% and the lowest growth was recorded in the US, where the growth was only 3.5%.
Rival BMW also scored their best January in history, but they were satisfied with a “7.2%” increase to nearly 144,000 units, so the difference between Mercedes and BMW was 34,000 units over a single month. The German manufacturer has seen strong sales growth for the models X1 (+40%), 7 Series (+29%) and Series 3 (+6%), while sales of electrified group models or “Plug ins” increased by 115%.
The sales situation in January 2017 was the following: Mercedes – 178,467 units (18.3% increase) and BMW 143,553 units (7.2% increase).
Chronological evolution of Mercedes-Benz versus BMW
• 1886: Karl Benz creates Patent-Motorwagen, commonly accepted as the first car.
• 1886: Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach made the first four-wheel car with a gasoline engine.
• 1900: Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) builds a Mercedes 35 PS, a car named after a customer’s daughter (Mercedes)
• 1901: Daimler receives a patent for a honeycomb radiator, which is based on water cooled engines.
• 1916: Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG is established as successor to the company of the Gustav-Otto-Flugmaschinenfabrik airplane manufacturer. Since 1922, engine construction, the name and logo of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG have been transferred to this company. March 7, 1916 is considered to be the date of the new BMW AG.
• 1921: A young DMG employee, Ferdinand Porsche, helped build the first supercharger.
• 1923: By being forbidden to build aircrafts or engines through the Versailles Treaty, the BMWs make the R32, their first motorcycle.
• 1925: The BMW R37 and R39 motorcycles have aluminum engine production cylinders.
• 1926: Daimler and Benz unite their companies: Mercedes-Benz is born.
• 1929: After 6 years of motorcycle production, BMW began to produce its first production car.
• 1931: The Mercedes-Benz 170 has the first four-wheel independent suspension.
• 1932: BMW launches its first fully original BMW AM1 design car.
• 1936: The world’s first diesel car, the Mercedes-Benz 260D, comes into circulation.
• 1954: The bonnet doors appear, and Mercedes-Benz’s 300SL is the first fuel-injection car.
• 1956: In order to compete with the 300SL, BMW launches 507. Although the award-winning car is a failure on the market and leads BMW to bankruptcy. Three years later, the company almost sells to Mercedes-Benz.
• 1972: BMW brings the all-electric car concept, 1602e, to the Munich Olympics.
• 1973: BMW launches 2002Turbo, one of the first cars to have a turbo engine.
• 1978: Mercedes-Benz offers an electronic anti-lock brake system (ABS) on the S-Class sedan, overtaking BMW’s first place on the market.
• 1982: Mercedes-Benz 190E is the first production car that has a multilink rear suspension.
• 1985: At the Frankfurt Auto Show, Mercedes reveals their 4Matic inter-traction system. BMW is doing better, selling an all-wheel drive version of its 325iX sedan.
• 1988: BMW produces a 12-cylinder engine for the 7 Series sedan. Three years later, Mercedes does the same thing.
• 1988: Just to see if it’s possible, BMW is testing a 16-cylinder engine on the 767 Goldfish. The car is never approved for production.
• 1995: The Electronic Stability Program – a non-slip technology that is now mandatory on all US-law vehicles – first appears on a Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
• 1996: The world’s first voice recognition system appears in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
• 1997: Feeling a market change towards SUVs, Mercedes starts selling M-Class. BMW brings one to the market two years later.
• 1997: At the Tokyo Auto Show, Mercedes unveils a limousine concept called Maybach, designed to compete with Rolls-Royce.
• 1998: BMW buys Rolls-Royce.
• 1998: Daimler begins to sell Smart Fortwo, a two-seat city car.
• 1999: If 12 cylinders are strong, then Mercedes puts 24 cylinders on its Maybach limousine, but eventually returns to a 12-cylinder model.
• 2000: BMW AG sells the Rover Group without the MINI and Land Rover brands to the Phoenix Venture Group and Ford Motor Corporation takes over Land Rover two weeks later. Only MINI remains within the BMW Group. BMW begins selling C1, a partially closed scooter for urban traffic.
• 2001: BMW unveils iDrive, an onboard computer system that uses a rotary controller on the 7 Series.
• 2001: Mini BMW brand introduces its new Mini Hatch / Hardtop car at the Detroit Auto Show. The car is a sales success.
• 2003: Mercedes-Benz produces the world’s first automatic seven-speed transmission.
• 2005: BMW unveils Hydrogen 7, a 7-Series Sedan, featuring a gasoline or hydrogen engine.
• 2011: BMW exposes a concept of an electric car, i3, at the Frankfurt Auto Show.
• 2015: The advanced research vehicle Mercedes-Benz, F 015, presents a vision for future driverless cars with conference-folding seats.
• 2016: BMW presents their Vision Next 100 concept, offering controls based on motion sensors and Iron Man-esque displays.