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Driving Lars Nielsen - The new managing director for BMW Group Asia

CarBuyer Team
13/05/2022
Leow Ju-Len and Lars Nielsen

What does BMW have planned for the year ahead? We took the new managing director of BMW Group Asia on a field trip around Singapore and flung questions at him

Watch the video version of this story here!

SINGAPORE

With BMW Group Asia’s tradition of rotating its chiefs every three to five years, it was only a matter of time before we met Lars Nielsen who took over the reins from Christopher Wehner as Managing Director.

While Lars is no stranger to Singapore, he is new to Singapore. So we took it upon ourselves to give him the warmest Singaporean welcome of course – sunny Singapore heat included.

Leow Ju-Len and Lars Nielsen and BMW iX

We found ourselves in the technological beast that is the all-electric BMW iX, and headed off on our day out.

On the way to our first destination I had the chance to speak with him about something I had previously heard from Christopher Wehner. Before he had left for Singapore, Mr Wehner’s boss left him advice on taking on the role. Naturally I was curious if Lars received any advice from his boss. 

BMW iX in Singapore
The electric BMW iX was the mode of transport for the day

Surprisingly, the answer was no. “My boss didn’t give me any advice, instead he spent quite some time explaining to me that he’s very jealous of my job,” Lars shared. 

Jealous? Wondering why, I inquired further. 

“The work we need to do has a certain amount of complexity, which obviously makes it interesting.”

Complexity is right of course – not only is the managing director responsible for Singapore, but also 13 other markets in the Southeast Asian, South Asian and Pan Pacific regions. Throw in Singapore’s set-up when it comes to owning cars – COE, VES, ARF, the list goes on and on – it certainly makes for a tough yet interesting job.

With the pandemic raging on for slightly over two years now, Lars shared with me the expectations upon stepping into the role – endemic and resuming life B.C. (before Covid) included.

“Currently with very volatile external factors that we’re not really in control of – finding the right way to balance market steering and market servicing, making sure that our customers don’t feel any downsides of that – I think these are the biggest challenges.”

We arrived at our first destination – Devil’s Bend on Old Upper Thomson Road. With the Singapore Grand Prix (finally) resuming this year, it seemed fitting to introduce Lars to a piece of our own motorsport history.

Every BMW is built for dynamic driving, including the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer seen here at the Devil’s Bend

Notorious for taking out a few drivers in its day, Devil’s Bend makes for an exciting drive. Personally, we’ve put our fair share of BMW M cars to the test on the trickiest corner of the circuit – a tidbit I shared with Lars.

To my personal surprise, he agreed. “You get to find out the grip, you get to enjoy the power a little bit.”

Leow Ju-Len and Lars Nielsen

But that special Singapore sun was getting to us, and off we went to our second destination on the promise of water.

We found ourselves at Marina Barrage – I didn’t say we’d have a drink of the water after all.

With its management of Singapore’s water supply and emphasis on self-reliance, Marina Barrage reminded me of BMW’s commitment to sustainability. 

BMW’s plant in Leipzig, Germany, where the all-electric i3 and plug-in hybrid i8 cars “came to life” is described by Lars as one of their “first and most prime examples of how to create a sustainable production environment.” Electricity to power production is generated through wind turbines and BMW is rightfully proud of the energy management there.

BMW i3 electric car
The BMW i3 is widely regarded as the car that got mainstream EVs up and going

Marina Barrage’s place in Singapore’s water narrative displays the importance of long-term planning, and after BMW took pole position last year in Singapore’s luxury car market and second place in the overall market share – all despite the pandemic – I probed Lars further about their expectations moving forward.

BMW i8 2017
Born in Leipzig, the stunning BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car was built on a sustainable production chain

True to anyone who’s been worn down by the whiplash of the countless restrictions here, Lars was infinitely excited to provide experiences for the brand’s customers again. 

“You can do many things digitally today, but we still like the human factor and the human interaction. Having activities, events, and so on running again is a big thing for us, and we’re really looking forward to that.”

No welcome to Singapore is complete without our favourite – food. And given BMW’s commitment to sustainability I figured what better lunch than a plant-based one?

Located at 8 Ann Siang Hill, Love Handle is known as Southeast Asia’s first plant-based butcher. Upon entering the place you’re greeted by a display fridge of their “butchery” – items range from plant-based rendang to even vegan calamari. 

Lars Nielsen and Leow Ju-Len

We nestled ourselves on the second floor and treated ourselves to hearty plant-based burgers – just as rich and flavourful as meat ones.

As I contemplated the switch in lifestyle one would have to make to go completely vegan, I was reminded of the similarities when it came to electric vehicles. With so much of the conversation surrounding the switch boiling down to a “change in lifestyle”, I quizzed Lars for his take on that. By this point, my itinerary must’ve worn Lars out as his food was almost gone. 

“You would go to a mall, you would have a charger at home, you would have a charger at work, wherever to charge the car on the go. So there is a change in habit for this.”

Now on the topic of electric cars, I of course had one thing on my mind – the i4 M50. When CarBuyer’s chief editor Derryn Wong had a chance behind the wheel of the i4 eDrive40, it was enough for him to brand it a ‘proper driver’s EV’. So to imagine what the i4 M50 – gran coupé, twin motors, and the century dash in a blistering 3.9 seconds – was capable of, I questioned Lars for his opinion of it.

BMW i4 in Singapore
The BMW i4 eDrive40 looking over the Singapore city lights

To my surprise he’d already had a chance to drive it (of course he did), and according to him, it was every bit as impressive as it sounds. Reiterating its impressive timing, Lars says “That’s the boundary for dizziness, then you start to get dizzy when you really floor it.”

“You really get the emotion, you get the M experience out of this as well.” 

The famous M again. Timely enough, seeing as BMW M celebrates its mid-century anniversary this year. Along with the i brand taking off, it seems like a full circle moment for the brand.

Lars agrees too, noting that the i and M brands are “indeed merging from a product point of view. We have something quite exciting planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of BMW M, and you’re just going to have to wait for the big reveal. ”

After a fantastic 2021 here in Singapore, the future for the brand looks promising yet.


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bmw BMW Asia managing director bmw EV i4 i8 ix Lars nielsen

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