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BMW 7-series designer fends off criticism

Chris Bangle, BMW AG’s chief designer, calmly defends the much-criticized styling of the new 7 series.

“You have to be a little different sometimes,” Bangle said in response to unfavorable comments made by fellow designers and the media.

The 7 series, which was unveiled at last month’s Frankfurt auto show, and which goes on sale in the United States in January, had been described as “confusing,” “lumpy” and “idiosyncratic.”

Why, people wondered, was the German automaker being so radical with its most conservative model?

Bangle reacted to that point immediately. “Is it our most conservative car?” he asked.

“If you look back in time, the 7 series has always been the innovator in the BMW model line,” he said. “A lot of the technology on BMW cars was first seen on the 7 series, and a lot of the competition has followed our lead. I don’t see the car as conservative. That word does not exist in BMW vocabulary.”

Taller car

The high rear of the 7 series has come in for the most criticism. Bangle explained the design followed the requirements of the interior — more space and more technology.

“The car is quite a lot taller than before to allow more headroom, and the rear passengers sit farther back,” he said. “In aerodynamic terms, there is a direct connection between the peak point on the roof and the spoiler line on the trunk. If the roof goes up, then the tail has to go up. The height of the roof dictates the height of the trunk.”

This presented a further problem because Bangle did not want to raise the belt line — the place where the glass starts — to meet up with the trunk.

“We could have put in a break after the rear doors, which is what Alfa Romeo did with the 75, or raise the entire belt at the rear in a wedge shape such as the Alfa 166,” Bangle said.

These solutions are fine for a sports coupe, he said, but not a sports sedan.

“The third option was to run the belt line straight out to the back and cut it off, similar to what Volvo has done on its cars, but we didn’t want to do that,” Bangle said.

“What we did was take the belt line and wrap it around the back to make more sculptured lines. Again, if you look back in time, the old BMW 2002 had this wraparound effect.”

The time also was right for a change of look for the 7 series, Bangle said.

“We usually follow a similar style for two generations in each vehicle, then make a jump for the third generation as technology moves on.”

Exuding confidence

Bangle mentioned the step changes in the 3 series, which moved from the 2002 to the square E30, then two generations on to the wedge shape of the E36, and so on.

“You have to be a little different sometimes, and it is BMW’s job to be different,” he said.

But was Bangle hurt by the criticism at Frankfurt?

“I was quite amazed at how the look of this car was pre-judged, but a lot of people who saw it properly for the first time at Frankfurt were impressed,” he said.

Bangle also defended the use of joystick technology in the car — a feature some said had no value for middle-aged 7-series buyers.

“The joystick was a pretty big commitment, but it shows that BMW is a technology leader and has the confidence to go through with these step changes,” he said. “We have to exude this confidence.”

Finally, Bangle denied that the 7-series’ design was rushed.

Said the chief designer: “We think long and hard about our flagship model. The design process on this car took four to five years rather than three years, which is the case on most of our vehicles. We have never made so many clay models.”

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