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Bavarian Autosport closes its doors after 45 years

Published in blog.hemmings.com

BMW roundel. Photo by Dushan Hanuska.

BMW and Mini owners around the country got some bad news on March 8, when Bavarian Autosport, the Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based parts supplier unexpectedly announced it was closing its doors for good. The company made the announcement on its Facebook page and in a tweet, sharing that they were “working on options to ensure that the Bavarian Autosport name will live on.”

On March 21, both Bavarian and Wadsworth, Ohio-based ECS Tuning announced that the latter would be taking care of Bavarian customers in some form. From the BavAuto website: “ECS Tuning has agreed to honor BavAuto gift cards, and will be helping to fulfill all open customer orders.” Both companies also announced that Bavarian customers would receive a 15-percent discount on their first orders with ECS. ECS provided an April 30, 2019, deadline for the use of gift cards and the discount.

Other details announced by ECS include “providing warranty support for Bavarian Autosport-branded merchandise” and “maintaining BavAuto’s longstanding support for BMW CCA chapters across the country.” Additionally, ECS will stock some Bavarian Autosport-branded parts and equipment, with items already listed on the ECS website. ECS’ announcement was also very effusive in its praise for Bavarian, calling the closed company “the gold standard” as well as saying it took “inspiration and motivation from BavAuto’s four decades of commitment to doing things right.”

With Bavarian having shut its doors and no response to its phone numbers, we reached out to ECS and spoke with Josh Chandler, the company’s CFO, regarding the arrangement with Bavarian Autosport. Chandler told us, “They [Bavarian Autosport] reached out to ECS maybe four weeks ago, indicating that they were closing their doors. ECS bought certain assets. Based on the BavAuto privacy policy, ECS did not acquire customer lists.” So, if you’ve got one of those BavAuto gift cards, ECS has no way of reaching out to you, though Chandler suggested that Bavarian had the option of reaching out to its customers. Chandler noted that ECS stepped up by asking itself, “What can ECS do to server the customer base? Where can ECS step in?” which they answered by acquiring some inventory, continuing to carry the branded BavAuto parts, and temporarily honoring those gift cards and offering discounts.

Like many industries, the enthusiast auto-parts business has been disrupted (for lack of a better word) by many changes in recent years, notably via internet sales and marketing. Chandler believes that Bavarian made a bit of a misstep during a redesign of its ecommerce site a few years ago, telling us, “A couple of years ago, they had a real clunky website. They updated the website and it looked, really, really good from a user experience.” Saying that the site had SEO (search engine optimization) problems, Chandler added, “When they relaunched their website, it did some pretty detrimental things to their business.”

Like Bavarian Auto, ECS Tuning was originally founded as an independent repair shop. In ECS’ case, it started in the 1960s as a Volkswagen-only business that eventually grew to service other foreign car makes, adopting the name Euro-Car Service. Like Bavarian, as its service business grew, so did the parts side. The company expanded rapidly from the mid-1990s as it added in-house designed performance kits, and later launched the ECS Tuning name in 2001, with the service side of the business closing for good in 2006. In more recent years, ECS was acquired by Bertram Capital, a very diversified firm with investments in a rather wide variety of industries. In 2015, ECS Tuning acquired another once-independent and prominent independent BMW part supplier, Turner Motorsport. The Turner name and parts survive, but the service side of the business is closed, and all parts warehousing and distribution come from ECS’ Ohio location. ECS Tuning also owns Pelican Parts, the European parts supplier that grew its reputation initially supplying Porsche parts from its California location, which it continues to operate. Other tuning and parts companies have found themselves acquired by private equity firms, such as California-based Dinan, a long-time and noted BMW tuning company.

Bavarian Autosport reportedly employed more than 40 people at the time of its demise. The company got its start in 1974 as an independent BMW repair facility, soon building up a parts inventory as a source for loyal customers in the Northeast, leading to the publication of its first catalog in 1983. The company’s website launched in 1996, with online ordering following in 2001, and Mini parts and accessories added to the mix with the make’s reintroduction to the American market in 2002 by BMW. By then, its reach had long since extended well beyond the Northeast.

Readers of the BMW CCA’s (the national BMW club in the U.S.) Roundel magazine have certainly seen the name many times over the years as the company was a regular advertiser and supporter for decades. Personally, as a long-time BMW owner, I have ordered parts and tools from the company, with the phone always answered by a very knowledgeable source on the other end. Just a quick look at the company’s Facebook and Twitter pages will show the immediate outpouring of support from enthusiasts. At the time of this writing, Bavarian Autosport’s social-media platforms remain online, and there seems to be a commitment to keeping at least part of that alive, such as on the company’s YouTube channel, which has more than 100 how-to videos that BMW and Mini owners have surely found helpful over the years.