BMW design

June 14th, 2010 § 3

The new designs from BMW reveal a return to its more conservative styling, reflecting better who BMW as a company is and how the products fit the intended consumers. Honestly I’m a little surprised by the silence of both, the media and the consumers, around the release of the new 7 and 5 series models. They are both handsome designs and fit very well the company’s image.

This new styling direction started being seen on the X5, released in 2006 and replacing the odd looking first generation SUV. That first generation X5 looked unfinished, like the design team run out of time, leaving a lot of details unresolved.

In general it can be said that BMW’s design is like the American economy: peaks and valleys. In 1991 BMW launched the E36, the third generation 3 series, probably one of the most attractive models it made. It was a huge step ahead from the boxy model it replaced, having a long wheelbase and very short front overhang which gave it a fresh look and dynamic proportions. This model seemed to announce a more audacious styling coming from the Bavarian house, perhaps from 1992 when Chris Bangle became chief of design until 2002, the styling was again very conservative, the ’94 7 series and the ’96 5 series being just slight evolutions of the models they replaced.

Then, in 2002, something happened. Actually it was a few years earlier, keeping in mind the long lead development in the auto industry. Chris Bangle decided to go from an extreme, very conservative, to another. Perhaps not to very advanced but to very weird. The 2002 7 series’ design created a negative response from both, the media and the consumers. It was a real, top of the line BMW, delivering everything one would expect from the ultimate brand except one thing: good looks. Being different doesn’t mean being stylish. There are products which are different/distinctive and very attractive, like Apples, and there are products which are different/distinctive and unattractive, like… some recent Subarus.

If I had to take a guess how the E65 came into reality, I would suspect the styling of the 1999 Z9 coupe was selected as a base for its development. The show car had a slick, original and modern look but also represented a big problem: its peculiar design looked very good on a long and low two-door coupe but it was very difficult to translate on a tall four-door sedan and, on top of all, meet the typical manufacturing and aerodynamic requirements.

The following year, 2003, a new 5 series was presented. It was a net improvement over the unusual E65 but it retained the so called “Bangle butt” which creates the impression that the trunk is an add-on. Without parting lines the E60 would be an attractive shape and with more attention to detail would be a better design. This model perhaps fell short in these two areas. The parting lines made the exterior look broken, creating the add-on look instead of a whole. The fine details and the use of chrome were ordinary, making the car look like is part of the Accord/Camry segment and not a real premium product.
The 6 series, the 1 series and the Z4 of that same decade were following the same path: good ideas and good intentions but with not great results. I remember a comparison test between the 1 series and Audi’s A3. Next to each other, the 1 series’ design look much more advanced, fresh and distinctive but not attractive. There was nothing wrong with the A3’ design, except it was boring.

This was the problem with the BMW design in the last decade. Chris Bangle‘s ideas of design innovation, the need of braking the mold to become and to stay a leader, are all correct and any designer in any design studio should be driven by such ideas. Bangle’s designs perhaps looked like explorations for the sake of being different, without regard for or understanding of the company’s brand image and customer taste. As a result, there are two groups out there, in opposition, one supporting Bangle for his ideas and vision and the other criticizing his work results.

BMW, like most established companies, is a very peculiar culture which requires a very good understanding of the organization itself and its stakeholders. This is not an easy task and the flip-flopping in the automotive industry shows how difficult is for some brands to find the right design. BMW is one of the strongest players in this industry. Considering just the sedans, they cover a wide range of consumers from the early 20s to the late 70s. Three weeks ago at the Bimmerfest in Pasadena I was impressed by the large number of new 3 series driven by people in their 20’s. Yes, if the current 7 series is a more conservative design, the next 3 should be more audacious, with the 5 doing the transition. It’s the same brand but the models should reflect the customer characteristics and needs. Instead of the same sausage in three sizes, there should be three, more distinct, designs reflecting nevertheless the same brand attributes.
Overall, BMW shows more maturity and sophistication in design with each new model and it proves to be a tough competitor for any other brand.

Tagged: , , , ,

§ 3 Responses to “BMW design”

What's this?

You are currently reading BMW design at car_brand_image.