In China They Eat Dogs

Chris Bangle has returned to car design, but isn’t back.

Yes. This is an Automobile. photo (c) CNET

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 past’s future, photo (c) The Truth About Cars

The trouble with our current concept of this is that it’s utterly outdated.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.

远景 现在, photo (c) Automobile Magazine

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




Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

11 thoughts on “In China They Eat Dogs”

  1. I spent a fair bit of time in China around 15 years ago. Back then, the big cities were still dominated by bicycles and there were essentially two types of car: VW Santana or Citroen ZX sedans (taxis); Audis or Buicks (party officials / businessmen).

    Of course there is a lot more choice today. What is really depressing is that China has gone mad for SUVs, like the rest of the aspiring classes around the world. Prestige, or assumed prestige, is all the rage.

    For all its rationality, I predict this Bangle concept will fail. Chinese consumers are no more rational than the rest of us.

    1. I don’t want to challenge your statement in the slightest, as you obviously know an awful lot more about China than I do. But my point wasn’t so much that REDS will succeed in China, but that it at least stands a chance there, unlike in Europe or the US.

      One of the main factors behind REDS’ success or lack thereof will obviously be legislation. If this is the car for people who’d otherwise be prohibited from owning/operating an automobile, it’ll work. If it’s either this or a VW T-Roc for Mr Xiang, he’d be just as likely to go for the more ‘prestigious’ option as Messrs Smith, Capaldi or Steinhoff.

      Ideally, REDS would establish a kind of Chinese Kei car. That’s another category of automobile that doesn’t adhere to the usual definition of attractiveness, yet has developed an aesthetic of its own.

    2. Kris, I agree.

      Sadly I have never been to Japan, but I understand that it is just about the only major market where SUVs remain very much a minority interest. And much of this must be down to the legislative framework set by the government.

      You could say that the European ‘supermini’ is a triumph of technology meeting genuine need – something like the SEAT Ibiza has evolved into an astonishingly capable car: compact and frugal, yet spacious and refined too.

      How can legislators encourage good design and dissuade people from buying unsuitable rubbish?

  2. The only thing I see is post modern styling cues plastered all over a box, it looks like something Robert Venturi could’ve done in 1986. Bangle should go after the Californian eco-tech crowd with that thing, it would sell like hotcakes to those that want a Smart/Tesla combo city car.

    1. I see it more like Frank Ghery (his own home, for example).
      Ventury had an eye on the past and used historical references as a rule of thumb.
      His automotive counterpart would be something like a Chrysler PT Cruiser

  3. The one thing we all could be reasonably certain of was that whenever Mr. Bangle elected to return to the automotive fray, it would never be with any approximation of predictability. However, even with this in mind, REDS is a shock to the system. I think the author is correct. We are too set in our thinking to imagine something as downright other as this – a vehicle where the exterior is really not the point of the exercise at all.

    The question worth asking is whether anyone will be prepared to countenance such a vehicle. It would, one imagines, prove something of a tough sell. However, as a mobility solution where one pays for access and not for ownership, it starts to make a good deal more sense.

    I applaud Bangle for this. It would have been so easy to have simply come up with some lazy hackneyed mid-engined nonentity or SUV nonsense. Here at least we have ideas, fresh thinking. It would be quite interesting to carry out a direct comparison with the project Gordon Murray has being trying to get off the ground for what seems like the best part of a decade. I’m not sure however whether there’s much to Murray’s design other than the footprint and its construction method. There seems to be a good deal more going on here.

    For those who consider Bangle the anti-Christ this will undoubtedly do little other than re-enforce that view. But for those who consider Bangle perhaps the most interesting thinker in latter-day automotive design, it’s a blast of clean air. Personally, I’m really pleased he’s (not?) back. It’s been so dull without him…

    1. If I was to follow the architectural reference game, I would be bold enough to suggest that until the 90’s the automotive design was broadly ‘modern’ and it would make me remember the ‘classical’ period, be it what you wish.

      I would also define last decade’s design as ‘barroque’, a kind of shock and awe visual language.

      Which leaves me with Chris Bangle as the man of the ‘Mannerism’, someone who tried to stretch the ‘classical’ language without touching the current Barroque or, in some cases, Rococo design language.

      I’m running on thin ice, I know.

  4. Don’t know why I like this piece of whimsy, but I do. The interior is clever as well. When I first saw a photo a few weeks ago, my brain instantly said Huckleberry Hound’s cartoon car. There were a number of TV/print cartoons from Hanna Barbera starting around 1960, and Huck Hound was one, Snagglepuss another. Probably never made it to Europe, as you’d have to be North American to get some of the recurring in-jokes. But Bangle is American.And just the right age for kids Saturday morning TV cartoon shows.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: