BMW AG originated with three other manufacturing companies, Rapp Motorenwerke and Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (BFw) in Bavaria, and Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach in Thuringia. Aircraft engine manufacturer Rapp Motorenwerke became Bayerische Motorenwerke in 1916 when the board of directors fired founder Karl Rapp and changed the company name. The engine manufacturer, which built proprietary industrial engines after World War I, was then bought by the owner of BFw who then merged BFw into BMW and moved the engine works onto BFw's premises. BFw's motorcycle sideline was improved upon by BMW and became an integral part of their business.
BMW became an automobile manufacturer in 1929 when it purchased Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach, which, at the time, built Austin Sevens under licence under the Dixi marque. BMW's team of engineers progressively developed their cars from small Seven-based cars into six-cylinder luxury cars and, in 1936, began production of the BMW 328 sports car. Aircraft engines, motorcycles, and automobiles would be BMW's main products until World War II. During the war, against the wishes of its director Franz Josef Popp, BMW concentrated on aircraft engine production, with motorcycles as a side line and automobile manufacture stopped altogether.
After the war, BMW survived by making pots, pans, and bicycles until 1948, when it restarted motorcycle production. Meanwhile, BMW's factory in Eisenach fell in the Soviet occupation zone and the Soviets restarted production of pre-war BMW motorcycles and automobiles there. This continued until 1955, after which they concentrated on cars based on pre-war DKW designs. BMW began building cars in Bavaria in 1952 with the BMW 501 luxury saloon. Sales of their luxury saloons were too small to be profitable, so BMW supplemented this with building Isettas under licence. Slow sales of luxury cars and small profit margins from microcars caused the BMW board to consider selling the operation to Daimler-Benz. However, Herbert Quandt was convinced to purchase a controlling interest in BMW and to invest in its future.
Quandt's investment, along with profits from the BMW 700, brought about the BMW New Class and BMW New Six. These new products, along with the absorption of Hans Glas GmbH, gave BMW a sure footing on which to expand. BMW grew in strength, eventually acquiring the Rover Group (most of which was later divested), and the license to build automobiles under the Rolls-Royce marque.
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