Chris Bangle has returned to car design, but isn’t back.
The most influential car designer of the past two decades has returned to the automotive realm. His message is more radical than ever – but his audience is an altogether different one than in the past. We needn’t listen to what he has to say, for we are not his audience anymore.
This differentiation illustrates, above all, that Chris Bangle is a smart man. And a man who has learned from the past. Whereas true BMW enthusiasts, having been nurtured with a diet of straight six performance and classical central European styling cues (albeit spiced with a dash of verve), never grew to truly appreciate Bangle’s edgy design approach, he chose a very different clientele for his return to car business.
Bangle’s new target customer hasn’t got concrete preconceptions of what constitutes an attractive form of motoring. Isn’t influenced in his or her judgement by the baggage that more than a century of automotive history might constitute, either.
Chris Bangle has created a car for the Chinese mega city dweller. A car that is not beautiful, not even remotely attractive to our jaundiced, Western eyes. Yet a car that, at the same time, appears to perfectly cater to the needs of a new generation – no: a new automotive culture, whose needs are very different from ours.
Attending to those needs comes at the price of sleekness. And sleekness is something we demand in our cars, even if it is only present in microscopic doses. For next to Bangle’s REDS city car, even an original Panda appears almost elegant, and certainly more convincingly proportioned. This is to do with the golf cart-like profile of REDS, its perpendicular sides, extreme wheel-to-body ratio and ‘upside down trapezium’ greenhouse – none of which convey even a remote impression of the dynamism we inherently expect in a pleasingly fashioned moving object.
What Bangle presents in the shape of REDS is no less than a redefinition of futurism.
The trouble with our current concept of this is that it’s utterly outdated. Our understanding of automotive modernity is still influenced by rockets, flying objects and Harley Earl. It reached its apex in the 1970s, with the introduction of the Turinese Wedge, but has since become an increasingly redundant trope, certainly as far as real world application is concerned.
A recent book on concept cars, Fast Forward, somewhat vaingloriously subtitled ‘Cars From The Future, The Future Of Cars’, proves to be an unexpectedly graphic illustration of this point, due to its complete focus on ‘fast’ shapes. From its narrow-minded, simplistic perspective, the future of the automobile is still all about speed. Which is, of course, utterly ridiculous.
Chris Bangle understands this, which is why REDS is an automotive device that’s arguably offering more usability when stationary then when moving. In other words: REDS is about the realistic use-pattern of a mobility device in a mega city environment, where speed is highly relative, unlike personal space and the ability to exploit it.
Chinese middle class city dwellers’ parents haven’t been raised as Alfa Romeo or BMW drivers. They don’t care about how a chassis behaves on a twisty country road, or if their car really reaches the limiter at 155mph on the Autobahn. They are even less concerned about Hofmeister kinks or Scudetti. They just want their daily lives to be that little bit less of a hassle.
REDS hasn’t been designed for us, and wouldn’t stand a chance in a market for which BMW’s conventional (by comparison) i3 city car proved to be too challenging.
We are not the centre of the universe anymore. Our rocket cars are a case for the history books, not for the streets.
The author of this piece runs a motoring site of his own, which you may choose to visit at www.auto-didakt.com