When two of the most prominent car designers recently left their posts, each left a ‘legacy’ awkward SUV model behind. Coincidence?
Most commentators were astonished when Luc Donckerwolke, one of the most high-profile design directors at Volkswagen Group, decided to leave the German giant behind and join Hyundai’s nascent Genesis brand. Was it the allure of receiving the call of his former boss, Peter Schreyer, that made him leave his post as Bentley’s chief designer and depart for South Korea? Or was it simply a matter of giant paycheques changing hands?
Most recently, it was Anders Warming’s turn to raise eyebrows when he decided to call it a day and pack his belongings at BMW’s Mini branch’s Munich studios. The Dane left with arguably the most impressive CV of any designer then working at the Bavarian giant, what with him having been involved in not just the first-generation BMW Z4’s styling (arguably the most significant of the Bangle-era BMWs), but also the GINA and Mille Miglia concept cars. That a young man of his reputation would choose to follow the example set by his predecessor as head of Mini design, Gert Hildebrandt, and join a Chinese upstart manufacturer (Borgward in Warming’s case), rather than, say, Apple’s automotive project, came as a bit of a surprise to many.
As it turns out, the cars unveiled either immediately before or straight after they’d left their former jobs were SUVs – Bentley’s Bentayga and the Mk2 Mini Countryman, respectively. Neither of which, to put it diplomatically, could be described as an aesthetic success. Does this prove that both these designers were being criminally overrated? Or do these cars exemplify why they’d decide to seek a new challenge, rather then having to come up with products of this kind?
Both the Countryman and the Bentayga smack of compromise of the smelly kind. It doesn’t take an awful lot of imagination to come up with images of endless presentations to the marketing department and the board, in turn leading to an even greater number of redesigns, changes and last-minute amendments, before the green light is eventually flashed.
As a consequence, it isn’t terribly surprising that these cars don’t betray any kind of clear vision. One doesn’t even need to go as far as to call them cynical, for their unclear, unconfident nature is there for all to see. These cars were made because the market demanded them, but to come up with a an inspiring solution to satisfy this demand obviously eluded Messrs Warming and Donckerwolke.
Either that, or they were being led and constricted in such a way that a satisfying creative process and corresponding results were being foiled. It can be argued that this kind of frustration was all the motivation a productive designer with certain standards would need when being presented with the blank sheet and copious resources the likes of Genesis and Borgward constitute.
The Bentayga and Countryman Mk2 are frustrating cars – they stand for the malaise of the motorcar in this day and age, and yet they aren’t exceptional enough to leave much of a mark in the bigger scheme of things (which arguably renders them even less enamouring than truly ugly cars à la Ssangyong Rodius). So while it is most likely that Luc Donckerwolke and Anders Warming are being paid top won/yuan, the urge to be in control creatively was likely to be just as tempting. Let’s see what they do with this kind of freedom – if the results turn out to be humdrum SUVs, we’ll know their true colours once and for all.