MUNICH -- In the never-dull, never-ending clash of luxury titans BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the storyline for years has been simple: While hidebound Mercedes stumbled about, a cool, clever BMW surged out in front.
Only now, not so much.
After several years in which Mercedes struggled to find an answer to BMW's dominance, especially the latter's swift expansion into the booming crossover market, the story has changed. And pretty dramatically.
Now, BMW is playing catch-up on several fronts, and its hotly anticipated attempt to shift the conversation last week by staging a "strategy day" in Munich fell as flat as Pfannkuchen.
This rivalry between the two German luxury giants -- more tense, embittered and closely matched than any two automakers in the world -- has hit a moment of truth. Looming ahead are the battles for China, the U.S., the ultraluxury sedan segment, self-driving electric vehicles and more. And right now, it's advantage Mercedes.
As for BMW, its strategy day last week was not only long on buzzwords and short on details, key planks seemed to borrow heavily from its competitor. All the way down to the Maultaschen served at lunch -- a specialty harking from Mercedes' home of Swabia -- it felt like an homage to BMW's archrival.
After months of work, BMW's new chief executive, Harald Krueger, presented his plans to lead the world's largest premium carmaker into the next decade -- its first new strategy since 2007 and perhaps its most critical given the tectonic shifts facing the industry.
Krueger touched all the bases, warning of the myriad risks and opportunities stemming from digitalization and announcing a new BMW i model coming early in the next decade that would combine all three megatrends: zero-emissions mobility, autonomous driving and connected cars.
On the defensive
Except that industry watchers were underwhelmed, especially when it comes to the much-vaunted i subbrand.