Is this where my love affair with the BMW brand ends?

Dear BMW

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for letting me be your customer for more than 25 years. During that time I’ve had some amazing experiences with a brand for which I’ve always had a soft spot.

I remember as soon as I could afford a ‘proper’ car, I went out and bought a BMW. I was living in Bahrain, it was 1989 and I purchased a stunning 1982 635csi with a little rubber spoiler on the boot. Black with red leather interior it was a beauty. Of course it was seven years old so always broke down but I was young and didn’t care. Even in the summer, with the temperature hovering around 45 degrees C when I found myself sitting yet again in a pool of sweat by the side of the Shaikh Khalifa highway whilst waiting yet again for Ali (we were on first name terms) to arrive in his tow truck, I felt privileged.

BMW 635csi
BMW 635csi

I saved up and soon purchased a brand new British racing green 525i that was ideal for those long journeys across the desert to Riyadh. At around this time and due to competition from Japanese and American brands, you began to position BMW as a luxury brand (we won’t mention the disastrous acquisition of Rover and the ridiculous belief that you could position Rover as a luxury brand).

I think it was 1992 when I bought the 5 series but I have to say it was tough selling it a few years later, around the time you lost about £700 million in one year (close to £2 billion in today’s money) and your brand was struggling to live up to expectations.

525i ate up the miles between Bahrain and Riyadh
525i ate up the miles between Bahrain and Riyadh

When I arrived in Malaysia after my stint in Bahrain, I couldn’t afford a new BMW and anyway your reputation here was so bad then that I wouldn’t have bought one if I could. But using service and customers to drive the rejuvenation of the brand culture you turned around your poor reputation and kudos to you.

The good news was that by 2012 I was in the market for another new BMW. By now I’m a husband and father and doing well. So my wife and I bought an X1. To be honest that was a mistake but as offloading it would incur a massive loss (it didn’t take off in Malaysia) we decided to sell it to one of our small companies and buy an X3. By the way, what exactly is the X1? Is it a hatchback? Is it a family estate? To be honest I could never figure it out but I’m glad we got rid of it because the plastic on the dashboard buttons was beginning to come off and the door was creaking and the rear window was starting to rattle.

Now the X3 was a hit with everyone in the family and we’ve had some great times in this car. It purred on long journeys to Singapore, Terrengganu or up to Penang. The X3 lapped up the school runs and trips around town and by the end of 2014 we had done close to 100,000 kms. Not huge mileage, especially for your cars but that’s when things started to go wrong. Sure there were similar little niggles to the X1 – rattling window and creaking door but we tolerated them.

In mid 2014 the X3 started to spew grey smoke out of the exhaust. Now remember we live in the tropics so cars are fairly warm when they start so it wasn’t due to a cold engine but I wasn’t bothered as this is a BMW and I’d read on the BMW website that, “Original BMW parts are subject to the same standards of quality as BMW vehicles – from construction planning to quality assurance.”

At BMW it would seem longevity is up to 2.5 years
At BMW it would seem longevity is up to 2.5 years

Of course when I read that before buying a car I felt reassured and it was one reason why I had ignored the fact that BMW only gave a 2 year warranty when competitors were giving anything from 2 – 5 years. But reading it again it suddenly looked like a bunch of words stuck together to make me think the components were solid and reliable. Obviously not.

So I went back to the website and read it again and realized that the copy was hard to understand. I mean read this, “The precision and high-quality construction of each original BMW part guarantees that all components in your BMW work together perfectly – for optimum performance and maximum safety and longevity.” Is it common then for some manufacturers to construct parts that don’t worth together perfectly? And what’s the definition of longevity in Munich? When it comes to certain components is it less than 30 months or does it depend on the component?

As I was considering what to do about the smoke, the airconditioner stopped working and in the tropics you need aircon. So we sent the car to the dealer we bought it from and asked them what was wrong.

They told me that both the compressor and the turbo needed to be replaced. Now I have to say I was taken aback by this. We’re talking about a BMW here and although I’m no petrol head, I was confident these components should last more than 30 months, especially as BMW prides itself on the longevity of its parts (assuming longevity is more than a couple of years). So I scoured the Internet looking for complaints about the X3 turbo unit and compressor and couldn’t find any!

One website features an astonishing 786 complaints about BMW but as far as I can see not one of them is related to these 2 components. Another site, also has a surprisingly large number of complaints about BMWs but nothing about these components which again suggests to me once more that I was just unlucky and got a car with 2 faulty components. After a great deal of searching, all I could find was one poor BMW user who had to wait 22 years before he could replace his compressor.

As for the turbo issue, most online discussions around the current generation of turbos suggest a lifespan of up to 250,000 miles. I thought that was a little ambitious so I halved it which meant I should get 125,000 miles or about 200,000 kms. My X3 has done less than 100,000 km and the turbo is kaput.

Unless the longevity of your components means no more than 2.5 years, I think you’ll agree that these two bits of hardware should last considerably longer than they have done on my car. I also own a Mercedes C250 and a 5 year old Suzuki and neither of these cars have any problems with these or other major components.

I contacted my dealer and asked them to replace the parts free of charge because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise I was just unlucky and had got a faulty car or at best a car with faulty equipment. And in today’s transparent, human environment and with your focus on the customer as well as our long association, I thought this would be a relatively simple process. After all, all I’m doing is asking BMW to take responsibility for the issue.

At the same time, on December 18th 2014 I wrote to BMW customer service in Munich and received an unsigned email the same day telling me my complaint had been forwarded to the relevant department for assessment. I can only assume that assessment is continuing because as of today, 19th January 2015 I haven’t heard from anyone.

Meanwhile the dealer immediately offered a discount of 20%. I took this as a sign that he agreed with me because logically if it was common for these components to fail so quickly, they wouldn’t have offered me a discount. I wasn’t happy with this discount and realizing the dealer isn’t the manufacturer, I decided to contact the head of BMW Malaysia.

The only way to get hold of Mr Harris is through his secretary. I don’t know if she passed my email to him because he didn’t reply (but she did tell me when I called her that he is very busy) but she did pass the email to staff in customer service (the irony) and for some reason to the after sales area manager who was the only one to contact me, unless you include a variety of automatic ‘out of office’ emails as contact.

The After Sales Area Manager wrote to me (spelling my name wrongly – that really bugs me because it suggests sloppy standards and that’s not good in the automotive industry, ask British Leyland and a host of other dead automotive brands).

In his letter he informed me that BMW cars have a 3 year warranty on paint defects and 12 years unlimited mileage against paint corrosion and a bunch of other irrelevant stuff that just rubbed salt into my wound.

So I wrote back to him suggesting it is only right and fair that BMW takes full responsibility for these defective components and replaces them free of charge. I asked him as the representative of BMW to accept this responsibility and ensure this negative experience doesn’t escalate further.

Later he called me and we spoke for about 10 minutes. I once again explained the problem and when I finished he said it didn’t matter because BMW was not going to replace the parts free of charge and that “You have a contract with the dealer not BMW.” Stunned at this response I asked him to pass me to someone in customer service or management who might be a little bit more empathetic but he refused saying, “I’m not going to escalate this higher.” Shocked I told him that in that case I would take my complaint public and he laughed and said, “I’m going to end this call because you are wasting my time.”

And that’s as far as I got. All I wanted was you to accept responsibility for a couple of substandard parts. To see the bigger picture and give a little bit back after 25 loyal years and numerous positive recommendations. But I didn’t get it. There was no empathy, no demonstration of your customer focused values, despite what you say in your recruitment video and a complete lack of concern over my situation.

So as it stands I really can’t see myself buying another BMW because I’ve lost faith in the brand. I really like the clever way you use a German speaking Chinese lady to communicate your caring and customer focused culture and “reaching out to the individual and speaking to him in a very personal way” but as a customer, I’m not feeling it.

Certainly that culture hasn’t filtered through to the people in your office in Malaysia. Certainly not the one who told me “he was going to end the call because I was wasting his time”. And contrary to what the confident girl said in the video, the culture of your company appears to be very different to what it actually is.

My friends will probably be happy because I’m a very vocal brand advocate so at least they won’t have to listen to me yapping away at how great BMW is. But they do have to listen to me whine about the cost of the repairs.

We’re going to miss those beautifully packaged boxes you send out with the “exclusively for BMW white card owners” on them that include a desk calendar for me to promote you and a brochure with ‘special offers’ that are not as good as I can get myself if I go directly to the company but I know you mean well.

So it looks like it is goodbye from me, your friend and advocate of 25 years.

Marcus Osborne – Kuala Lumpur. January 2015