Former BMW design chief Chris Bangle is an explainer extraordinaire and a wildly creative allegorist.
The American, who left BMW in 2009 to set up a design consultancy in Italy, is working on a top-secret car project — his first auto venture since striking out on his own.
Bangle's goal has long been to push car design into uncharted territory. And at the Frankfurt auto show this month, he used his expressive gifts to enlighten a reporter about the thinking behind his project.
"Three years ago, I sat down with a team and piece of paper and a pencil and I said, 'I'm going to make a map that is going to reflect car design today as if it was a map of the world in 1400 drawn by the Europeans.'
"You'd have Europe and the Mediterranean basin and a little bit of North Africa, and you'd probably have the U.K. and some lower parts of the northern countries and everything else ... huge oceans, sea monsters, God only knows what — everything else is unknown.
"So, I drew this nice harbor with little boats in it, and I said, 'This is car design today.' How big is the harbor? It's about that big. And when we do a new design, we take the boat out, and we drive around in a circle in the harbor, and everyone else follows us, and we park the boats again.
"So, let's go outside of that, and let's see what kinds of islands we can find. If we can find an island, we don't have to stay there. We'll just put a marker on it, and we'll come back. One of the islands that BMW explored was 'morphing,' with GINA (a 2008 concept vehicle). Shape changing.
"So, we draw a little island there. And now, let's put a couple of other islands out here, and do a couple of other things, and see what we come to.
"Then we got to this very interesting sea that was very scary because it was guarded by two rocks, like in the Greek tales. You go through the rocks, and you're screwed. So, it's an inland sea where basically no car designer has ever been in, ever. In fact, there are only two examples I can think of in the entire history of car design that have ever explored that world.
"The inland sea is called 'the figurative.' This is one example of the seas. 'The figurative' means what it looks like is what it is. No car designer ever did anything figurative. I'm not talking about a hood ornament that looks like an elephant. I'm talking about a car that looks like an elephant. Because those two rocks you go through are called kitsch. And you don't dare go through that. No designer wants to get anywhere near those."