Design talk gets ugly for BMW 7

The new 7 series was a showstopper at this month's Frankfurt auto show, but not for the reasons BMW AG might have hoped.

Reactions to the design were not favorable. Experts spoke of poor proportions, a bulky shape and idiosyncratic lines. The car, BMW's flagship, goes on sale in Europe this fall. In January, it arrives in the United States, where last year the 7 series accounted for 16,619 sales.

Tom Tjaarda, an independent Italian designer, was most outspoken. "Unfortunately, the rear end was the first I saw of the car, and I could not believe my eyes," he said. "It is lumpy, with confusing lines, and it looks as if the boot (trunk) is open."

Ken Greenley, former head of automotive design at London's Royal College of Art, said: "I must say it is very brave, but the rear end is idiosyncratic. I have tried to draw it, and the lines don't come easily."

He added: "The car is just not very BMW. It's not evolutionary; it has changed drastically. Did BMW have to be so revolutionary on its most conservative model?"

One German designer familiar with decision-making inside BMW was less outspoken but still critical.

"I am skeptical about its looks, but I would like to see the car on the street first," the designer said. "What we should not forget is that this car has gone through a whole process of approvals by top management, with a final word from Bernd Pischetsrieder and Wolfgang Reitzle."

Pischetsrieder was BMW CEO; Reitzle was BMW product chief. Both left the company in February 1999.

Asked if the 7 series was his project, Reitzle said: "I'm not going to comment because I would have to differentiate between the technology and the styling. I won't say anything." Reitzle now is chairman of Ford Motor Co.'s Premier Automotive Group.

Another former BMW executive said he was "a little bit shocked" by what he saw.

The 7 series was created by BMW design chief Chris Bangle.

Not all opinions were negative. The interior of the 7 series was better received, but there was some concern over the high-tech equipment.

The redesigned car is full of new technology and offers the industry's first six-speed automatic transmission.

The driver can control more than 700 functions - entertainment, navigation and information - from a joystick. The car has 123 electric motors - including nine fans that cool the seats.

The new all-aluminum suspension has several features for ride comfort. The front and rear anti-roll bars have integrated hydraulic motors that twist to counteract body roll in corners. The air suspension for the rear axle continuously levels ride height regardless of load.

"Do middle-aged executives really want joysticks and hundreds of functions? These are much more suited to younger buyers," said one executive.

Said a BMW spokeswoman: "I think people are misunderstanding this car. They are mistaking simplicity for complexity. It's like a home computer that can do many things if you want it to, but you probably only want to use a small number of functions. It is radical, and it is a great car to drive."

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