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Old 20th March 2004, 00:28   #1
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There are probably three car companies that i really admire the most. Lamborghini, Porsche and BMW. And probably only 3 companies that i really follow up on... pretty much completely.

Off-late, BMW has caught attention of a lot of people. And for several reasons. Their CEO Helmut Panke who is a strict no-nonsense type of guy, their expansion into 1-series, 2-series, 4-series, 6-series and X3 and their upcoming mini-van, their good run on the stock-exchanges and persistent high-sales. But one factor that has caught up the most, and has led to the most controversy has been their "new-age" design and the Chris Bangle factor.

To put a lot of things right, Chris Bangle is an old-hand in BMW than what most people think. He's been around the company far longer than the Chris Bangle effect and if one notices the E46 3-series, the E-39 5 series, the design result has been due to Chris. And even then, the E-39 5 series had its own share of detractors. People tended to hate the squint and squid type headlamps which got to the gut of BMW purists. A year later, and these squid type headlamps suddenly felt very chic and very in. So whats gone wrong now, 7 years later?

Quite a few factors actually. There has been a major exodus of top management execs from BMW. By Between 1998 and 2000,several top execs left BMW for plum jobs in PAG, Audi, Daimler Chrysler and other firms. One such top exec, Wolfgang Reitzle had major control over what Bangle designed left for PAG. Its said, he made sure that Bangle didn't go overboard with his creativity. The result has been, the now considered achingly beautiful, E-46 M3 and E-39 M5.

BMW's design philosophy has been simple. One person designs the car in its entirety and that will be chosen in its entirety, no changes. It has always allowed designers to completely design the cars and then the management has selected the best among them, a sort of competition. It believes that one-thought leads to flow. But this flow seems to have been a leak in Bangle's case.

So should we really blame Bangle for everything that has gone wrong with BMW? Not really. Remember the Z09 concept?
Remember the CS1 concept. All these cars were meant to do one thing, prepare the general public for the direction of design BMW was to take. And the time it gave wasnt small either. But then again, people havent accepted the design direction BMW has adopted, why so?

Chris Bangle has always been vociferous at protecting his design direction. Take his interview in Top Gear for example:

So now we know:

Chris Bangle interview - The big idea
[08 March 2004]

Chris Bangle, designer of the BMW 7-Series, 6-Series, 5-Series, Z4, X3 and forthcoming 1-Series, is used to taking flak. When he first got his mitts on the BMW drawing board, people weren't expecting anything so radical as the fusion of slashes, folds, curves and creases that have defined the look of the modern Beemer. Press and public alike recoiled.

No amount of explanation can make people like these designs; if time doesn't do it, nothing will. But what's been missing from a lot of the criticism has been an explanation. Those who reacted against Bangle's designs didn't understand: why has BMW done this?

When I caught up with Chris Bangle at the Geneva motor show, he was glad to set things straight. His designs have principles. Bangle's idea is that car styling essentially divides into three historical eras: pre-1920s, 1920s to about 1970, and from 1970 onwards.

People are growing weary of the post-1970 style, and car designers are searching for the way forward. In a nutshell, where most manufacturers have gone retro, BMW has instead gone Bangle.

Here's the mental picture Bangle drew me. Picture a BMW 3-Series head on. If the car's flanks were to continue upwards instead of ending at the roof, they would eventually meet, and you would be looking at a 'tube'.

Car styling is a question of how much bodywork surfaces deviate from the whole of the tube - think of the tube as a lump of rock which can then be chiselled by a sculptor. Since 1970, car styling has deviated relatively little from this tube; bodywork surfaces have been simple.

Bangle gesticulates; in the hey-day of the previous design era, the 1950s, styling took free reign to deviate as much from the tube as possible, with fins, bumpers and glass areas sprouting all over the place. This is the excitement other manufacturers are attempting to re-capture with retro design, but this is not the path BMW wants to follow.

BMW wants to have something to develop in the future, whereas all retro designs have already been developed once, which is how they arrived at the present day.

Where retro styling leaves you nowhere to go next, Bangle's designs can evolve. Bangle's mission has been to develop a style that plays with the tube formula.

"Look at the 6-Series", he suggests. "Until the waistline the car fits into one tube, then above it a new tube forms - hence the separate bootlid". On the 5-Series three different tubes were used to form the style.

Even if this doesn't sound like cobblers to you, Bangle's experimentation may seem a bit random. Again though, the future has been planned from the start; these are not frivolous designs that can be discarded if people don't like them.

"You have to look twenty years ahead at the engineering, and make sure you can evolve the styling to use the same tooling. The styling is dictated by changes to the engineering. To re-tool with every re-style would be simply too expensive".

So a big change had to come at some point - as Bangle acknowledges, you can only take an icon so far before it becomes impossible to keep it modern-looking. The dramatic BMW designs of the early 2000s are intended to give the company a fresh platform for design.

If Bangle's recent promotion is anything to go by, the Munich top brass clearly think he's done just that. Bangle is now director of BMW Group design, overseeing BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce and co-ordinating their strategies.

He's certainly got the self-belief to carry it off. I put it to Chris that most people don't like the way his cars look. "No, most people do", he grinned. "They just won't admit it".

SourceM5 Board

In my opinion, BMW needs to prove itself with its newfound design philosophy. It could be that 20 years down the line when we look back, we could say, "hey u know the BMWs by Bangle weren't really that bad after all". Is it possible? Designs have a tendency to grow on people. Remember the 996 Porsche? People hated its looks. And look today, its detractors are few and far between. But its also possible that this radical direction might be a lil' too radical for everyone to digest.

But the buck doesn't stop there. In the future, I'll look into whether BMW needs so many vehicles, how is it planning to share platforms, whether it'll continue to stay profitable, i-drive and its controversy, BMW and microsoft coming together for vehicle software.....

..... the list will go on

Till then keep revvin
Revvmaster

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Old 20th March 2004, 00:31   #2
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BMW CS1
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Old 20th March 2004, 00:33   #3
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Z9 Concept
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Old 20th March 2004, 00:42   #4
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what i think is that the designing carried out by Bangle is a fair bit of departure from what BMWs used to be. people genrally dont adapt to change that easily. the 7 series is a shocker, but me and quite a few people more did actually like it. and the new 7 series has way lot more presence and cred then the older ones i have seen around. evolution of design is important.
just look at what Patrick le Quement started doing with Renault. i don't particularly like the new Megane or the erstwhile Avantime. but then there are people who do. i guess it's engineering what matters most. and then you got to find more interesting designs in the limitations you have.
mags have been raving about the new 6 series. matter of taking the best bits from the 7 series and the 5 series they say. i don't see how. i doubt that's how bangle planned it. another example is people didn't like the Guggenheim museum too when they saw it first. but it did grow on them.
anyways' i think Bangle's contract this due to expire this year or the next.
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Old 20th March 2004, 00:54   #5
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Spot on P-head.

What u said abt Renault and LeQuement is exactly what i feel. BMWs have always had this muscular look and feel about it. And with the E-39 and E-46 generations, they pretty much came to the end of making the muscular. The question was, which direction to go next? Hence flame surfacing. Its very easy for us purists to say, hey BMW's lost it. But lost what?

Design needs direction, and sometimes design comes to a point where you need to start afresh and from a new paper. Its like Peugeot and its WRC 206. The 206 WRC has done so well that its come to a point you cant work on it anymore. So therfore the 307. It'll take time for it to settle down, maybe it wont do much this season. But i am guessing, season-2 and it'll be back to winning ways.

Its hard even for BMW, but they'll survive this criticism, i'm sure.

Revv
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Old 20th March 2004, 06:46   #6
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Hey Revv,

Good to see a more thoughtful approach than the usual bangle-bashing that goes on.
P-Head, i am another who does like the looks of the new 7...
Bangles designs arent bad as designs, i think they are just a big jump from the traditional bmw look people have come to know. The Z4 is another car, which i think looks better than the Z3. And the Z9 concept was beautiful in some views and sketches.
The 5 series however seems rather blan, but honestly i was no big fan of the E39 until just recently.

Overall i think everyone is just being a little to hard on the guy. Time should sort things out.

Cya
Rehaan

ps - p-head...check out this pic of Gerhy's Guggenheim (which for those of you who dont know is now a modern architectural legend! (will start a new thread for the rest of the pics - ie spectacular MB pics, not guggenheim!)
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Old 20th March 2004, 14:55   #7
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hey that "reflecting" car looks awesome, how do they do that? Is it a paint job or is it made of that material?

Regards...
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Old 20th March 2004, 15:19   #8
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Its made up completely of Aluminium.
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Old 21st March 2004, 04:36   #9
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Shan2u and Grim,

http://www.team-bhp.com/cgi-bin....;t=385;

and i think they are chrome plated, not aluminum...
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Old 22nd March 2004, 04:42   #10
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i think the the front of the BMW's is not all that bad but the rear he really really messes up..i dont subscribe to his theory of tube & all...partially 'coz i dont understand the concept of it

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Old 22nd March 2004, 13:02   #11
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Revvmaster,

Such an amazing topic that I actually had to put on my thinking cap over the weekend, before posting my reply.

In the year 2003, S Class sales actually went up, while BMW lost market share on its 7 series. These statistics come on even stronger when you realise that the 7 series is a brand new model, compared to the S Class which is a far older model. What does that tell you?

The Quandt family (BMW controllers) had publicly asked Bangle to move BMW's image forward. Butttttttttttttt I think that the one goof-up was they left it to one mans fancy. Like Revv himself has stated, *BMW's philosophy was to let one man lead the design in its entirety. WTF?? I'd rather have a design "team" than a one man design authority. It is true that too many cooks could spoil the soup, but then we arent talking extremes here. A design team with 5 top level engineers and one aggressive boss to make things move has worked with Mercedes, VW (and audi) and a host of other companies. Do you think that the shareholders of BMW A.G. would have the future of their company in the hands of one man?

Chris Bangle has openly said that his designs are more about art and less about commerce. But the bottom-line is that you dont sell mass pieces of art, you do that with commercially viable and universally acceptable products - WHICH THE NEW BMW DESIGNS ARENT. Sure, the Ferrari Enzo did not exactly please everyone with its looks (and thats being modest) butttttttttttt the sales target was only 349 units (initially atleast). A similar case with the Porsche 996 too!

Research has proved time and again that car purchases are made on two influences: Their looks and how they are perceived (image). On the looks front there are just too many examples, but perception poses some interesting ones. Volvo owners make their choice thinking that their cars are the safest, and Volvo themselves have taken that market positioning. Butttttttttttttttt Volvo is NOT the safest car on the road (It is one of the safest but not the safest). Safety ratings by testing authorities of various countries proves just that. Closer home, the Palio is seen as having very inefficient appetite for fuel and NOTHING is going to change that. Not NV versions, not owners saying otherwise. It is an image that is going to stick with the product for a long time to come...even if actual results are otherwise.

The main appeal of German cars has eternally been its understated designs and sound engineering. BMW has lost out on both, not only is the 7 series unacceptable to look at, it is also a mechanical failure. The number of breakdowns/problems that I have read users complaining about would put even Tata and Mahindra in a good light.

Its been only 4 years since Bangle has destroyed the previously wonderful designs of BMW. Its still not too late to make repairs, and bounce back. Wake up, Mr. Quandt!

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Old 22nd March 2004, 14:28   #12
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over the years Renault designs have become better than what they used to be. Its started with the Avantime and that theme is being applied to all its models i.e. the Espace, Megane, Scenic. But those designs look good. Agreed that they are a complete departure from the previous Renault designs, but they didnt have any unnecessary curves, twists and turns. If u look at the CS1, u'll understand how boxy it looks. The grille design has also changed, i guess to some extent.

And btw, whose idea was the iDrive system??? Bangles?? Whoever was the brain behind the iDrive, i dont know, but the US has banned [or is gonna ban] the iDrive cos of its cmplex nature. I read it in an Autocar India issue.

Renault Avantime


Renault Espace


Renault Megane



Renault Scenic
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Old 23rd March 2004, 00:51   #13
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Hey GTO

Your reply seems like a lot of effort, i give u credit for it. However, i kinda don't agree with u on the 5 designers-one engineer part. There's nothing like the thought process of a single person, and design needs flow in thought. Having been with art-directors in advertising, i can understand what designers go thru n trust me, its not about only too many cooks spoiling the broth.

Most car companies have design committees who go all out to prove their point to the other rivalling committees. And the politics that goes into choosing designs can get nasty. Not only that, design committees also have the tendency of choosing bits and pieces and making changes and changes to suit the whims and fancies of some people at the top. That functionally destroys the design of the vehicle. The one-person for a car funda at BMW is very old. And it has worked for years and its done well for the company. Off-late, their design direction has changed. And it has been necessitated by something very simple. Evolution of the last generation of designs (e-39, e-46 etc) had come to a standstill. It couldnt be evolved by much, and spending too much money on designs that still look 80-90% like the old wud be money wasted. Enter Flame surfacing.

If you'd asked me 2 years back, how do i find the Z4, and i'd say, you gotta be kidding me, that can't be a car. And one side in me, my heart, still says that can't be a BMW for chrissakes. But my rational side and understanding of design as a character makes me speak a different tone, its inevitable. I have read a lot of Bangle bashing topics and articles. But a quick tour of messageboards that went all out bangle-bashing recently has shown a different trend, people are quietly beginning to like the designs. Are they growing on them? Probably so. Its quirky allright, but its there to stay. And this is BMWs first foray into bold-designs, when the normal upgrade in looks comes out in the current z4 2 years down the line, you'll probably find some toning down. It might end up being the same effect like the E-39 5 series. First hated, but with revised looks in 1999 its fan-following just increased to no end.

I can only pray that what i say is true. Cuz BMW is too good a company to lose focus. I hope its just change of focus this time around.

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Old 23rd March 2004, 01:06   #14
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Revv,

The bottomline is that this design team structure has worked for almost every major car manufacturer worth his salt. In fact, from my experiences, team work has actually led to ideas and innovation that would have been beyond the reach of one single focussed mind. When you speak about politics and rivalry, that is but a case of team harmony...or the lack of. Anyways the point of this discussion was not a one man rule versus team work...it was Bangle.

While earlier BMW designs were sheer classics, you aint going to remember no Z4 or the current gen 7 series as even pleasant to look at...Even if the initial response to the E39 was not too positive, the car was well-proportioned with subtle muscular lines. Bangles designs look nothing more than a mad man who lost control over his geometry box.

Like I said, 10% may like his designs...what you cant afford to ignore is the other 90% of the potential market.

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Old 23rd March 2004, 12:16   #15
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BMW is working on two MPVs, according to Automotive News. These models, codenamed RFK-1 and RFK-2, have not yet been signed off for production, but have been under development for over a year. RFK stands for 'raum funktionales konzept', or functional-space concept, but apparently, BMW is emphatic that these are not van-like vehicles. The smaller RFK-1 would be based on the same platform as the 3-Series-derived X3, and the RFK-2 on that of the 5-series/X5, and although they would be higher-riding and higher-roofed than BMW's saloons and conventional estates, sporty driving dynamics would not be compromised in any way. The seating positions and ergonomics would be as similar to those of the mainstream car ranges as possible. Both models, if they share their underpinnings with the X3 and X5, could be built at the Spartanburg factory in North Carolina or in Europe; they would go on sale worldwide. (Automotive News)
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