“We were the first European carmaker to establish a subsidiary here”

Forty years of joy

BMW Group Japan celebrates four decades of achievements


SEPTEMBER 2021 Investing in Japan / Text by Toby Waters / Photos by Benjamin Parks

This is a year of celebration. In 1981 — in fact, 40 years ago this month — the German automotive giant BMW launched its operations in Japan.

“We were the first European carmaker to establish a subsidiary here,” says Christian Wiedmann, president and CEO of BMW Group Japan. “I think that history really distinguishes us.”

To commemorate its 40th anniversary in the country, the firm launched a major brand campaign — called 40 Years of Joy — and has held a number of events with members of its distribution network. It will also hold a major online event next month, called BMW Arena.

Drivers in Japan have a reason to celebrate, too. The firm has released anniversary editions of cars in its 3 Series, 5 Series, and 7 Series — the first models that were made available in Japan. And Motorrad, the group’s motorcycle brand, has also created an anniversary edition of its GS motorbike.

It has been a year to reflect on the firm’s accomplishments — and to take pride in the fact that BMW Japan has grown to become the leader in the country’s foreign premium car market.


BMW Japan’s operations started with a car preparation and distribution centre in Chiba Prefecture, and two parts distribution centres each in the Kanto and Kansai regions.

“We aimed to set up a completely exclusive distribution network, which was very singular at the time,” says Wiedmann. “We wanted to make a significant investment to show Japan that we are here for the long term.”

Today, the firm has more than 300 sales outlets and 300 workshops across the country, which have been important in solidifying BMW’s reputation here.

“The size of our network really gives our customers a sense of comfort and safety,” explains Wiedmann. “Our presence throughout Japan means we’re always available to cater to people’s needs.”

The carmaker also boasts a number of firsts with regard to customer service. For example, at the time it opened, interest rates on car loans were very high because this was how many dealers made their profits. So, BMW Japan did something different to help its customers.

“We introduced low interest rate programmes, which were a first in the industry,” notes Wiedmann. “They really increased the sense of affordability of a premium luxury automobile here in Japan.”

Also, 40 years ago, there was an assumption that imported cars broke down more easily and cost a lot to maintain, according to Wiedmann. To combat the stereotype, BMW Japan began offering a maintenance package for its vehicles, which covered those costs for three years.

“What was unheard of at the time was our 24/7 emergency service,” he says. “It gave our customers peace of mind, and almost all of them signed up. Of course, this has now become an industry standard.”

Additionally, BMW Japan set up the first independent used car network. It began buying cars back from its customers, then carefully inspected them and replaced any parts that were worn. When it could guarantee a high level of quality, the firm resold them. Today, it has more than 200 used car outlets for its BMW and MINI vehicles.

“We always want to demonstrate that we can be trusted as a social partner”


The environment also has reason to celebrate. The anniversary events have been a way to highlight some of the firsts for the BMW Group globally with regard to its sustainability achievements.

Even before it began operations in Japan, the firm had established itself as a pioneer in e-mobility.

“During the 1972 Munich Olympics, BMW unveiled its first fully electric model, the BMW 1602 Elektro-Antrieb. The cars were used as shuttle vehicles for the International Olympic Committee officials,” Wiedmann explains. “At the time, the batteries were very heavy, so the cars couldn’t be produced for the mass-market. But it started our research and development efforts into e-mobility, which we have continued ever since.”

Today, BMW Japan has one all-electric car available in the Japanese market, the i3. And the BMW Group has pledged to introduce 12 new fully electric models between now and 2023, with the iX, i4, and iX3 currently available for pre-order here.

E-mobility is not the only area of sustainability where the firm has been a pioneer.

“Back in 1973, the BMW Group hired its first environmental officer, and, in 2001, we published our very first sustainability report. Today, these are perfectly normal things for a company to do but, when they were first done, they were major steps forward for sustainability and transparency,” Wiedmann says. “We always want to demonstrate that we can be trusted as a social partner.”

The emphasis on sustainability continues today. In May, the BMW Group announced it intends to reduce CO2 emissions by 200 million tonnes across its supply chain by 2030.

“When it comes to extracting raw materials, production, and even sales, our slogan is: reduce, reuse, recycle,” Wiedmann says. “We want to reuse steel, aluminium, and plastic, as much as possible. This is a real mindset shift, which is going through the whole organisation. It even affects the design process, because now, when we’re designing a car, we need to think about how it can be recycled later on.”

Not even car interiors have escaped BMW’s drive to minimise its environmental impact.

“For the iX’s seats, for example, we are now only using leather made using purely organic tanning methods, and the dashboards are produced completely organically,” Wiedmann says. “We’re using more mono-materials, which aren’t mixed with anything else, so more of the car can be recycled. Features like these underline our leadership in sustainability.”

Japan has strict regulations on fleet consumption — the average fuel consumption of a given vehicle fleet released on the market — and BMW Japan is proud that it successfully meets these high standards.


Society, too, has something to celebrate. With 30 production plants across 15 countries, the BMW Group is eager to prove itself a responsible partner to the communities it calls home. All of its offices are committed to taking part in CSR activities, including in Japan.

“Among the highlights are our engagement in environmental clean-up activities and our continually increasing support of Second Harvest, a food bank that distributes food to those who need it in Tokyo and more widely across Japan,” Wiedmann says. “We also support an organisation called One Young World, which promotes young thought-leaders working on issues relating to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

BMW Japan’s first 40 years have seen it become a market leader, a driver of innovation, and a business that brings joy to its customers and the community. Who knows what feats the automaker will be celebrating in 2061?