MUNICH – BMW, which became the world's largest maker of luxury cars by focusing on Autobahn thrills, is shifting gears to automated driving as urbanization and changing attitudes toward cars redefine transportation.
"In the future, 'Sheer Driving Pleasure' will also be defined as liberating drivers through automation," BMW said Monday in a statement as it celebrated turning 100 years old. "The company is on the verge of realizing automated driving," which it called "a major opportunity for revolutionizing mobility."
Vehicles moving autonomously is a question of "when," not "if," BMW said, adding that it sees people still wanting to take over the wheel at times to experience the thrill of driving. With sales growth lagging behind No. 2 Mercedes-Benz, BMW is under pressure to show it can still innovate.
To that end, the company presented a concept called BMW Vision Next 100, imagining a vehicle that will allow drivers to select when they want control over the wheel and when they want to do something else, with an interactive windshield that can warn of bicycles, pedestrians or other road obstacles.
The concept car offers a choice of driver-controlled or vehicle-controlled operations. In driver mode, the car indicates the ideal driving line and speed; in autonomous mode, the steering wheel retracts and the driver and front-seat passenger can turn to face each other.
"BMW drivers will be able to let their cars do the work — but only when the driver wants," the company said.
BMW isn't alone in grappling with how digital, urban lifestyles are changing what consumers expect from a car. The industry is set to experience a "much wider kind of competition" as artificial intelligence makes it possible for vehicles to talk to each other, drive themselves and free up people's commuting time, said Dieter Zetsche, chief executive of Mercedes parent company Daimler.
Auto executives said last week at the Geneva International Motor Show that some elements of autonomous driving could begin being introduced around the end of this decade.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.