BMW relieved its controversial chief designer Chris Bangle of direct styling responsibility for the BMW brand to silence steady criticism about the company's design direction, sources say.
Bangle, 47, was last week named director of BMW Group Design, a new post. He will oversee newly created, individual styling departments for BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce, as well as for the BMW Motorrad and BMW M brands.
Sources close to the decision and to Bangle said BMW promoted its high-profile designer into an executive role as a way to save face while still removing him from direct styling responsibilities.
BMW denies this. "Chris is and will remain the head of BMW design," a BMW spokesman told Automotive News Europe.
Bangle's former hands-on role as head of BMW-brand design was given to 40-year-old Adrian van Hooydonk, president of BMW's California design studio.
"Adrian van Hooydonk will report to Chris," said the BMW spokesman. He added that the change was part of a company-wide restructuring.
But one executive with inside knowledge of the deliberations said BMW believed that "something had to be done" to defuse the criticism.
"Even though sales weren't a problem, they felt the constant criticism was beginning to undermine the brand," the source said.
The source said BMW approached him late last year to check his potential interest in Bangle's job.
Few car designers have generated as much controversy in their career as Bangle.
Three years after the launch of the redesigned flagship 7 series, with its oddly styled trunk, BMW loyalists continue to call for Bangle's ouster on enthusiast websites.
Bangle, an American and a former chief of Fiat-brand design, has headed BMW's styling department for more than a decade.
He was responsible for redesigns of the 3, 5 and 7 series, and has overseen the creation of the X5 and X3 SUVs, the forthcoming 1 series and the 6-series coupe and cabrio.