After a three-year drumbeat of criticism over the company's design direction, BMW AG last week relieved controversial chief stylist Chris Bangle of direct responsibility for BMW brand design and moved him into a senior executive role.
Bangle, 47, was named director of BMW Group Design, a new post. As before, though, he will continue to oversee individual styling departments for BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce, as well as for the BMW Motorcycles and BMW M brands.
His former hands-on role as head of BMW-brand design was given to 40-year-old Adrian van Hooydonk, a Bangle protege and president of DesignworksUSA, BMW's California design studio.
It was unclear what the reorganization says about the future of BMW design. A spokesman insisted that no design shifts were in store, and that the change was not made in response to criticism.
BMW, in fact, went to great lengths last week to point out that van Hooydonk drew the exteriors of the cars that have drawn so much criticism for BMW and Bangle.
"The reorganization is part of a companywide restructuring to focus more on individual brands," said the company's chief spokesman, Richard Gaul. "The criticism we've faced over our design direction had no influence whatsoever on our decision."
But sources close to the discussions and to Bangle said last week that BMW negotiated the reorganization as a way to save face while shifting its senior designer away from direct styling responsibilities.
Rumors of his departure from BMW have been rife in the industry for more than a year.