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BMW’s Naming Lost Me When It Moved From “E” to “F”

When I grew up, we thought we were really cool when we’d identify BMW models by their “E” numbers. There was the E36, which was the 3 Series that was sold from 1992 to 1999. There was the E34, which was the 5 Series sold from 1989 to 1995. There was also the E39, and the E24, and the E21, and blah blah blah. I thought I was especially cool because I knew the X5 was called the “E53.” I stumped people with that one for years.

These names were useful because BMW doesn’t really change their model names. The BMW 3 Series, for instance, came out in 1975, and it’s currently in its sixth generation. It’s a lot easier to say “E36” than “the one with those cool square headlights and that giant air vent in the center stack.” Same with all the other BMW models.

Now, when I was growing up, I heard that BMW used “E” in front of these numbers because “E” stood for “Entwicklung,” which was the German word for “Development.” So the E24 was the 24th BMW development, and the next model they released was the E28, which implied there were some “Developments” in there that didn’t see production (plus the M1, technically the E26, which did). This is why the numbers were a bit haphazard: There was no E35, for instance, or E40.

Then marketing got a hold of the whole thing.

It seems that at some point in the late 2000s, BMW’s marketing department started to realize that the “E” numbers were a really popular way to identify their cars, and they decided they were tired of the weird names — “E forty-six” didn’t really roll off your tongue, BMW apparently figured, and if the cars were going to be known by these numbers, they wanted the numbers to be easier to identify, easier to remember and easy to say. This began the tradition of only using numbers ending in zero. After the E65 7 Series in 2001, it’s been mostly just numbers divisible by ten: the E70 X5 and the E90 3 Series, for instance. (Oddly, the 1 Series was the E81, but not many cars have deviated from this pattern since.)

But I could live with the numbers ending in ten. Where marketing really screwed things up was when they abandoned “E” and went to “F.”

Like many people, I figured that after the E90 came out, the next car would be the E100. That would make logical sense. But these cars were no longer being named by the engineers, but rather by the marketers, and they decided 2-digit numbers made more sense. E was out, and the next car was the “F01,” which refers to the recently replaced 7 Series.

Now this is where I have a bit of a problem with the whole thing, because the entire point of the “E” numbers in the first place is that the E stood for “Entwicklung,” which was the German word for “Development”!!! Now the “E” is gone, and the cars are all called “F” something, which doesn’t even make sense. There’s the F10 5 Series, the F20 1 Series, the F30 3 and 4 Series, blah blah blah. This cool thing that used to be known only to car enthusiasts has now been turned into a marketing ploy, and it no longer even really means anything. Maybe even less logically, BMW has recently released the “G30” 5 Series, even though they only got about halfway through the Fs.

Me, I think I’m going to go back to describing them in the “old” way. “That 5 Series?” I’ll say. “You know the one? The one that’s a little too big, with all the electronic stuff.” Find a BMW for sale

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1. I just perused the BMW US website, and saw no mention of these ‘names’ on the various model pages. If the nomenclature is entirely internal and not presented to buyers, which I understand it to be, then ‘marketing’ has absolutely nothing to do with it. Not even the CPO inventory includes the internal model designation; only year and badged model number appear to be shown.

    I think the author here is playing a bit fast and loose with the facts. If he had it from some authoritative source that BMW is actively ‘marketing’ its internal model numbers, he surely would have cited it.
    Just because car geeks happen to speak the code does not mean that the manufacturer gives two whits about how the code is or is not perceived when such code is changed.
    • First off, I said in the article many times that BMW marketing “apparently” figured they would make the change to the F numbers for this purpose. I can think of no other apparent purpose, which is why I have this theory. At no point did I say it’s a “fact.”

      The idea, however, that the nomenclature is “entirely internal” is laughable; anyone with even the slightest interest in BMWs uses these names — even people who aren’t into cars. 
  2. I got curious and found a list of BMW internal model numbers from 1968 to 2018 and did a count on how many E/F/Gs there are, and the results are a bit surprising. 
    For nearly 50 years (1968-2010), BMW used the “E” nomenclature on 39 different models.

    In the last 9 years (2008 to present) BMW has created 34 “F” and 20 “G” designations, for a total of 54, significantly more than all of the “E” designations combined, and in a much shorter time. 
    Maybe they’re running out of stuff to call them. 
    At this rate, it won’t be long before we see puns around the BMW H8
  3. I got around this by not understanding any of the ones before F either, thus permitting me to revel in my cluelessness.

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