BMW chief designer Chris Bangle wants the automaker's model line to have strong differentiation.
"We needed a scheme that would put everything into a logical matrix," he says. "The plan was not 'everything is like the other one.' Neither was it 'everything has to be different to the other one.' We developed a spectrum which leads into two different directions. At the one end of the spectrum stands the 7 series with a sculptural, present shape. At the other end stands the BMW Z4."
Without question, the shape of each is distinctive. That can be a good thing, because it signals uniqueness. But it also can open the door to criticism - something to which Bangle is no stranger.
Last year it seemed that Bangle was under fire from all sides. BMW enthusiasts, automotive journalists and even auto executives ripped his redesign of the 7 series - particularly for the high-end shape of the trunk. Volkswagen design boss Helmut Warkuss, for example, bad-mouthed the BMW flagship as a "bunch of uncoordinated steel plates."
People wondered why the German automaker was being so radical with its most conservative model.
But Bangle took the criticism in stride. "You have to be a little different sometimes," he told Automotive News last October. And it should be noted that the BMW management board stuck to Bangle's design course and has been giving him full backing. Burkhard Goeschel, head of product development, praises the "distinctiveness" of Bangle's work. Bangle himself declares, "When there are controversial discussions about our products, that shows that our cars have personality."
So don't expect the distinctive rear to change when it's time to do the next face-lift on the 7 series. Says Bangle: "The rear has its own personality, which belongs to that product."
Shaking things up
BMW is hoping to shake things up with a series of other changes. In July the new BMW 5-series model will be launched. In the fall, both the X3 sports activity vehicle and the BMW 6-series coupe will have their world premiere. Next year the BMW 1 series, the 6-series convertible and the 5-series touring model will follow.
Bangle denies that the 5 series originally had been designed to be a smaller version of the 7 series but was toned down because of harsh criticism of the 7 series.
"The 5 series is not a small 7 series," Bangle says. "That was clear from the beginning on. The development of the new 5 series had already been in full swing before the 7 series was launched on the market."
If anything, the 6 series would be considered closer, he says: "This model has grown from the 7 series."
As far as the other models go, Bangle categorizes the 3 series and the planned 1-series models into the sportive, dynamic group. "The 3 series is closer to the Z4 than the
5 series," he says. "It is a little bit sportier. And the 1 series will have even more surface dynamics than the 3 series," explains the 46-year-old, who also puts the new X3 sports activity vehicle into this group.
The U.S.-born Bangle, who started his career as an interior designer with Opel, doesn't mind knocking the competition.
"Certain enterprises had a look into the future and then decided to go back into the past," he says. "They build the cars of 40 years ago again - but this time with flat glass."
Bangle says he likes the design of the French carmakers. "Renault creates a very good design. The enterprise goes its own way and continues with a clear style."
Something like that inspires him - even though BMW has chosen a completely different way than