BMW Z13 and automakers secretly want more regulations

Car of the Day #16: BMW Z13

BMW Z13 and automakers secretly want more regulations
BMW Z13 on the road • via BMW

This week, I’m grouping five vehicles under the theme: Here’s How Far They Have Fallen, with the aim of illustrating how different our roads could be if leading auto companies went back to basics. Non-negotiables: better efficiency, more fun to drive, smaller sizes, and bucketfuls of character. First up: the perfect BMW (for me).

If BMW promised to make me the perfect car after analyzing my interests, web browsing history, driving style, and day-to-day needs, I have a feeling they'd send me a dark green Z13.

Being a BMW concept car, it's been discussed at length elsewhere—though I will take exception to those who say it's like an older i3 city car. That car would be the ungainly BMW Z22 concept, not the Z13. 

Who is the Z13 for? Enthusiastic commuters. Winding road enthusiasts. Someone who needs a loaner car while their M-whatever is in the shop. Here’s what the concept brought to the table:

  • Hand-formed aluminum panels by Stola in Italy
  • Aluminum spaceframe chassis
  • Very compact overall dimensions (about 25 cm / 10 in. shorter than a Chevrolet Spark)
  • Rear-mounted 82 horsepower, 1,200-cc engine from the K1100 motorcycle
  • Low weight of 830 kg (1,829 lbs)
  • Driver sits in the middle with space for one passenger on each side

The first prototype seen here had a rear-mounted CVT transmission (the round dial to the right of the steering wheel is to select park, forward, reverse, etc), while the second prototype, a red example, had a 1,200-cc 4-cylinder motorcycle engine and a 5-speed manual transmission.

Initial Z13 sketch • via BMW

If you don’t believe me, here’s a sketch from the early ’90s around the idea of a “1.3 car” because most cars are occupied by only 1.3 people. Don’t ever believe designers aren’t capable of identifying market needs — it’s often the executives, marketers, and sales channels who have ulterior motives.

That said, the Z13 is pretty perfect, right? Especially since I’d be able to call and/or fax future issues of Car of the Day. Is any other concept car from 1994 as fresh and relevant today?

It makes sense: engineers at BMW had wanted to downsize the luxury of a large sedan (just look at that glass roof!) into something more fuel efficient, and the Z13—nice stereo, satellite navigation, leather seats, et al—was what resulted. 

If you follow this history of what would become the company's executive express, the modern Mini lineup starts to make more sense: shortly after the Z13 was cancelled, BMW bought Rover and embarked on its plan to revitalize Mini—giving it many of the same features (but not the groundbreaking design) seen in the Z13.

Still keeping score? That first Mini, the R50, weighed ~300 kg more than the Z13.  

As stated above, the Z13 was largely aluminum, however, the composites side of the Z-program cars of BMW Technik ended up influencing what became the short-lived i3 and i8, decades later. But hey, at least we got the X6, XM, and i5 M60 X-Drive. 

The manual transmission Z13 from a magazine scan • source unknown

If anyone at BMW is reading this and either of the Z13 prototypes will move under its own power, I'll gladly bring a jerry can of fuel for a test drive…here’s an old promo video with inoffensive Muzak dubbed over whatever audio BMW had originally used.

In other words: enjoy.

WHOSE FAULT IS IT? – As I was watching Harry Metcalfe’s review of the BMW i5 M60 X-Drive, I tried to wrap my head around how a product like this ends up passing several points of approval and still enters production with a casserole of baked-in flaws.

I can nitpick specific elements of the car — for example, how it weighs 600 kg (one Citroën 2CV) more than the lightest gasoline-powered 5 series models — but that would be futile.

I can pretend it’s a BMW problem or an industry problem, or that the catchall terms “safety standards” and “vehicle regulations” have conspired to back the propeller brand (and several others) into a corner: this is the best they could do under the circumstances. And we accept that.

Here’s one for you: what if automakers had always wanted stricter standards?

Being completely on the outside, for years I’ve wondered why the obvious solutions to our traffic and environmental issues haven't been taken. 

For example, proven-to-work fuel-saving solutions like full under body panels have been known for decades, yet up until recently automakers haven’t had to pull that trick out of the bag to meet U.S. mpg standards. 

On trucks and SUVs, the fastest-growing segments of the market in many places, properly-designed, factory-fitted underbody panels are rare. Instead, automakers insist on flimsy, fugly lower front air dams as if there’s no other solution.

EVs: even now that Tesla, with its ground-up dedication to electric vehicle platforms has proven drivers will make the switch to electric, most automakers continue to pretend it’s impossible for them to develop EV platforms that don’t at least share a basic structure with a fossil fueled car. 

The same automakers then spend hundreds of millions in R&D to win Le Mans, be seen in NASCAR, over-spend on autonomous vehicles, create vast IT departments hell-bent on finding profits through software-defined vehicles, or pretend that all e-fuels need to overcome bunk science is more investment…yeah.

Y’all ever thought of starting with what worked well in the past? Reliable, stylish, affordable cars that people aspire to own.

Acting on that sentiment would take a monumental (unlikely) shift in attitudes, from the automakers addicted to spreading its engineering abilities too thin in the service of bloated designs…to the dealers all-too-happy to do a credit check and send someone out the door with payments of more than $1,000/mo and so much smoke up their ass it takes the buyer weeks to realize how terrible of a decision it was.

Seriously, there are dozens of Reddit threads about this:

“Just purchased a new 2023 Hyundai Tucson Hybrid SEL the other day and now I'm posting here at 3am with buyers remorse. I financed the car for $680/month (5.9% for 60 months. Im aware that dealerships don't take returns but I'm messaging you all to see my options. I could afford the car but I will need to budget and I feel that if I need to budget to afford this car then maybe I shouldn't have the car haha. It seemed like a very doable payment at the time but now any advice is massively appreciated!”

Want more? Wade into r/whatcarshouldIbuy at your own risk.

Now back on the manufacturer side, when half-baked models such as the i5 M60 X-Drive don’t sell, pick an excuse: 1) challenging market conditions, 2) uncompetitive “first generation” technology, 3) too-high price point.

This is a classic grifter’s game. In boom times or bust, carmakers operate within a pro-car system, meaning it’s in a white collar workers’ best interests to keep everything roughly the same until it’s pension time. 

I say this as much for the auto employees as I do for the politicians and traffic engineers who feel too powerless to do anything about it — after all, the car industry would be an unchecked cesspool without regulations and continued infrastructure investments! Bull. Shit.

If we’re unable to imagine a world without cars, it automatically makes automakers “too big to fail”.

Regulations enacted in this environment become a form of gatekeeping.

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