Big Apple Dreaming: BMW, Audi Imagine Cities of Tomorrow, Starting in New York


What is it with German luxury-car brands and their attraction to museums in the Big Apple? Both BMW and Audi in recent days have kicked off forward-looking sponsorships with major New York museums in parallel moves designed to show they’re eager participants in helping to construct a sustainable urban future.

Over the weekend, Audi brought its Urban Future Initiative at the Openhouse Gallery as part of the New Museum’s first-ever Festival of Ideas for the New City conference in Manhattan. The Volkswagen-owned luxury brand got involved to help spark “the debate about the city of the future,” as Audi AG board member Peter Schwarzenbauer stated. It also was aimed at giving Audi a seat at the table in discussions about “mobility” in cities.

On Friday, BMW unveiled a six-year project with the city’s famed Guggenheim Museum, the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a traveling cultural project aimed at developing new ideas for design and urban living through free programs that will engage the public in such issues as defining public/private space. The luxury automaker is sponsoring the initiative to stimulate conversations and ideas around social, political and environmental issues facing the city of the (near) future. It’s “the biggest adventure we have ever been in” with a cultural institution, a BMW spokesman said.[more]

So what is going on here? BMW executives say that their Guggenheim lab — which will turn an abandoned lot in NYC’s East Village into a vibrant art space from Aug. 3rd to Oct. 16 before traveling to nine cities worldwide over six years, including Berlin in 2012 — segues with the brand’s interest in the future of urban mobility, as seen with their BMW i Ventures tech incubator that was recently established in New York. BMW’s Big Apple-based VC is investing in location apps and other technologies that may apply to navigating cities, in or out of cars.

Audi, which has been popping up with its urban initiative in Europe (London and Venice pre-dated NYC), says its project is concerned with “new versions of roadways and infrastructure solutions for the future.”

The simultaneous interest of Audi and BMW in forming future-forward cultural partnerships in New York is curious, but laudable. In the very much here and now, both brands are doing well selling their “old-fashioned” gasoline and diesel-power automobiles as the global auto market recovery takes shape, including in the United States. And each has been relatively slow to embrace the electric-vehicle call to action by the Obama administration and environmentalists.

Perhaps the museum exhibits will boost the brands’ stated interest in being part of urban environmental solutions while BMW and Audi wait for the EVs that will give them real street cred?