Fur-Q

Amid the blatant insecurity current betrayed by German car design, BMW dares to make a bold statement with the facelifted 7 series. 

2020-bmw-745e-11
2020 BMW 7 series, photo (c) CNet

For quite some time, the German ‘premium’ car makers – and BMW in particular – have attracted criticism for brand dilution, creative brain drain and the overall loss of aesthetic values. One of the overriding points being made was a lack of bold, assured decision making – a lack of ‘vision’, if one chooses to describe it as such.

With the recent unveiling of the significantly overhauled BMW 7 series luxury saloon, the Bavarian brand now dramatically changes course, attacking the naysayers head-on. For what this Siebener unquestionably constitutes is a very bold statement indeed.

That statement isn’t one of indecision, as with so many recent BMW designs, but of clarity. For with this car, Bayerische Motoren Werke (sic) leaves the European – and part of the American – 7 series customer in no doubt regarding his or her value to the company. Europe officially plays no role in the luxury saloon game anymore. Europe can go to hell.

Such hyperbole may sound too dramatic and drastic at first, particularly in the context of a business determined not to alienate any kind of potential customer. Yet the facelifted Siebener’s obscene, monstrous snout obviously caters to certain (emerging) markets’ penchant for feudal aesthetics that literally are a very tough sell in Europe, certainly outside the domain of gangsta’ rap and its enthusiasts.

Having posted a photo of the 7’s frontal aspect on social media upon its official unveiling, I was astounded to see it reach an audience reaching thousands, rather than the hundreds such a note usually attracts. None of the comments left were complimentary.

Of course, social media is deservedly notorious for its bipolar nature. But in real life too, whether talking to dyed-in-the-wool enthusiasts of the marque or prospective buyers, the reaction to the Siebener’s new dress has been unanimous – ‘vile’ happens to be among the more measured adjectives thrown at it in that context.

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photo (c) Concept Carz

To some extent, BMW oughtn’t be judged too harshly. After all, the luxury saloon sector is a shrinking one, particularly on the Old Continent. The decision makers of Munich Milbertshofen probably count on those repelled by the 7’s vulgarian snout to choose a sumptuously specified 5 series or the upcoming 8 series Gran Coupé saloon instead.

However, this 7’s drastic declaration of wilful ignorance will not remain contained. Bayerische Motoren Werke and even good old (mass-market but still abstractly exclusive) BMW will be associated with this show of disdain for a former core market.

Of course, having the mettle to risk alienating certain parts of the market by creating a truly distinctive product is a request that’s been made time and again on these pages and elsewhere.

BMW have just done that. In most unexpected a fashion.

 

The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at 

 www.auto-didakt.com

Author: Christopher Butt

Auto-Didakt

23 thoughts on “Fur-Q”

  1. The large premium sedan market is in such significant decline that I’m not sure how much the styling of these cars matters anymore.

    Audi A8 sales in North America are down to ~3000 per year, as is the Jaguar XJ. Bmw and even Mercedes are not much above that. If Europe is showing the same trends and China even weaker, none of these manufacturers is ever going to commit the investment to design a truly new model.

    At this point, a model “refresh” in this segment consists of a new grill and higher turbo boost on existing engines. The sales level doesn’t justify spending anything more.

    Given that, maybe trying to create buzz with a deliberately vulgar restyle makes sense. Try to goose sales temporarily and get what you can out of it before you kill the platform.

    In this segment, the S class will likely be the sole survivor, and just keep selling versions of it’s current chassis as long as there are enough buyers to make it profitable.

    1. Angel, this is interesting, but the car makers have got to a point where they probably won’t bother investing in a new ICE platform.

      BMW, Mercedes, Audi and JLR all now have their modular platform kits, that are probably as sophisticated as a metal monocoque structure will get. The investment from now on is in electric – and, it seems, this means an entirely different kind of architecture.

    2. “Angel, this is interesting, but the car makers have got to a point where they probably won’t bother investing in a new ICE platform.”

      If they want to sell vehicles in North America they will.

      Electric vehicles are 2 percent of the vehicle market worldwide, and even less than that here. The central part of the continent is going thru an especial cold spell now, and some previously clueless electric vehicle owners are finding out what anyone who grew up in Canada already knew – cold temperatures have a major effect on battery performance and lifespan.

      Maybe it’s possible to sit in the Santa Clara valley and imagine that an EV is a viable year round vehicle.

      Yeah, just try it in Quebec City in February.

    3. Angel Martin,

      Sorry, I should be clearer. I am not saying that ICE cars will cease to be made anytime soon. Like you, I imagine demand will continue for some time, no doubt with increased hybridisation.

      What I am saying is that I think the car platform has reached a plateau in terms of development. Unless manufacturers start building composite or reinforced plastic structures en masse, the current modular mixed metal platforms are as sophisticated as they are going to get.

      Recently, the trend has been to make cars less sophisticated – Mercedes used some of its R&D budget to swap out the independent rear suspension in the A class for a torsion beam. VW’s MQB is endlessly adaptable and will serve for at least another generation of new models. In which case, why invest in an all-new platform?

    4. “VW’s MQB is endlessly adaptable and will serve for at least another generation of new models. In which case, why invest in an all-new platform?”

      jacomo, we have hear this stuff before. “Expert” forecasts of the future turn into massive automotive investments in specific platforms or powertrains. Those forecasts have never completely panned out – and they have often been 180 degrees wrong.

      The MBQ investment is a $60 billion (!) platform investment for VAG to produce all its traverse engine vehicles, regardless of size, on one platform in one set of factories.

      What if consumer tastes change, and they want vehicles that are not buildable with MBQ ?

      What if there is a major economic downturn for and extended period and sales volumes decline below what is needed to amortize a 60 billion dollar platform ?

      I actually thought that the price tag on MBQ was an order of magnitude typo by some innumerate journalism intern.

      Frankly, MBQ represents automotive hubris beyond anything GM ever attempted.

      It says that VAG “knows” the future, they know what vehicle sales volumes will be far into the future, and they know the kind of vehicles people will and will not buy, far into the future.

      That’s hubris. Especially given the history of the automobile industry.

  2. I have read a few comments elsewhere that people don’t mind the big grille, comparing it to Audi’s single-frame, or Lexus’s giant spindle … and even that of a Rolls Royce in terms of precedent. Oddly, I can see some RR in it when looking at photos of the 7 shot from a distance. I don’t like the way Audi has iterated its grille, certainly not on the latest A8, A7 and A6. No, the thing that makes the grille of the 7 stand out for all the wrong reasons is the swollen, bloated roundness of the form. It’s like some disfigured organ (kidney?) and that’s why I think it is so unsympathetic to the eye. The fact that it’s lacquered with the shiniest of blinging chrome doesn’t help.

    That said, I agree with Angel Martin, that it might just attract a few extra punters who would otherwise have gone for the even more foul X7.

    1. As stated above, the new kidney grille might work on markets of a more feudal disposition, but in Europe, it’s simply toxic. Your typical German/Swiss/French executive doesn’t want to stand out in this way – or if he did, he’d just go for a Rolls-Royce straightaway. This Seven’s ‘out of my way, little man’ attitude is deemed unacceptable in most quarters, although pimps and rappers will probably be delighted.

      Rumour has it Mercedes felt compelled to enlarge the upcoming S-class’ grille at the last minute before signing it off. The luxury saloon’s destiny appears to be sealed.

      That being said, these developments would leave the door wide open for Jaguar to offer an elegant, tasteful alternative to such monstrosities. After all, it’s not as though there wasn’t enough money around for people to buy cars at this price point…

    2. The grille has the look of something added late or seems not integrated. The whole front is a mess of cuts and edges and does not tie in with the bodysides.

  3. I think this displays a real lack of leadership from BMW. The new grille is not just hideous but inexplicable.

    Where was the phone call to van Hoojdonk? “Yes, yes, I know we agreed to give the 7 more presence… but this?!” There are at least 100 other ways BMW could have gone with this, and all of them would have been preferable.

    1. Absolutely. But at least there’s a clear idea in evidence, regardless of its execution. When looking at the 8 & 3 series or Z4, it’s considerably more challenging to come up with any explanation as to why these cars look the way they do.

  4. Even if I am repelled by it, I can understand, to a degree, the logic of the big grille and other vulgar (to our eyes) embellishments appealing to customers who are happy to flaunt rather than downplay their wealth. That said, I am utterly baffled by the Bayerische Motoren Werke “black label” marketing nonsense. Will this entail roped off VIP areas in BMW showrooms, where entry is “verboten” to the masses with their dreary “ordinary” BMWs? If so, this is is more likely to be perceived as insulting to the majority of owners than as appealing to the vanity of the minority. Imagine how you would feel as the owner of a new top spec and fully loaded 5-Series in this environment?

    The closest parallel I can think of is Vignale*, which is a classic case of “tuppence ha’penny looking down on tuppence”, as far as the the showroom experience goes. At least you get a Vignale badge on the car for your money, whereas there will be no black propeller badge on your new 7-Series, only the big gob.

    BMW hugely missed a trick in the way they mishandled its ownership of the Rover Group in the late 90’s. Rather spending a fortune developing the bespoke 75, they could have much more cheaply produced a range of models using existing BMW architecture (perhaps from outgoing models) and established the Rover (or Triumph) brand as a semi-premium competitor to, for example, VW. Had the company done this, rather than devaluing the BMW brand with cars like the 1 and 2-Series, it would not now need to establish a prestige sub-brand.

    * I realise that Vignale is a trim level across all the range of Ford cars, not a designation reserved for the top of the range models, but the showroom environment is similar.

  5. Having recently discovered Driven To Write, I’m very much enjoying it, specially the independence of ideas and the out of the box points of view. Even the comments are a deep source of knowledge.
    Please, keep up this good work, though sometimes it’s not so easy to follow all the meanings to the readers who don’t have English as their mother’s tongue, like in my case.
    As an employee of a well known car maker, I understand (and I don’t mean share) some behaviours that may look strange from outside. Therefore I’ve developed two different points of view, sometimes opposite: as professional of the automotive industry and as aficionado.
    Regarding the brilliant article of Christopher Butt, it’s my believe that the disputable nose of the new 7 Series reflects the changes in tastes across the world. The traditional European luxury taste is decreasing in importance, measured in Euros and pounds, as the emerging countries one is booming. Take a look at the design of watches and sunglasses, to name just a couple of examples.
    The brands I work for also show this internal contradictions. A product mainly focused in Europe really match the taste of our European customers, a product mainly designed for China or Middle East, not so much.
    And back to Munich, how much I miss my M3 E46!

    1. I see the logic behind the OEM’s thinking, but I don’t believe it makes much sense.

      Export markets have always been of utmost important to prestige/’premium’ brands: Up until 10-15 years ago, the US market was to the Germans what the Chinese market is today. And yet they never succumbed to that market’s taste in as self-negating a fashion as is happening with China. Executives would probably point out now that the German ‘premium’ brands can offer technology and clout the Chinese domestic OEMs cannot match and that the style must cater sufficiently to local customers’ preferences – and yet I’d argue that losing a discernible aesthetic means needlessly abandoning a significant USP.

      Lest we forget, Chinese OEMs are currently on a buying spree for western car designers. So in terms of craftsmanship, European car design is destined to lose its edge, if it hasn’t done so already. And what will the ‘premium’ brands be left with then, as a means of setting themselves apart aesthetically? If Chinese brands offer Chinese style and the Europeans do too, where will the sophistication be found that puts the premium into ‘premium’?

    2. Christopher, I believe you’ve hit the nail on the head with these observations. BMW and Mercedes were never so revered in North America as when they sent over the unadulterated European versions of their cars, changed only to meet official US vehicle regulations like insistence on inferior lighting. And those companies didn’t much care if Americans liked the result or not – you either got it or you grumped on about Cadillacs and pickup trucks being better. Then the market started getting US-flavoured versions of BMWs and MBs, mostly I think because both companies opened huge SUV factories in the US. Up until recently, all BMW SAVs were made in America.

      VW time and again made second-rate versions of the Golf for sale in North America. When in the late 1970s and then ’80s vW Westmoreland couldn’t unload “Rabbits” equipped with mouse-fur interiors and cheap instrument panels, they made them in Mexico after closing that US factory. Jettas sold, Golfs did not. Then from 2010 or so, they made special cheapo Jettas and then gigantic tinny sparsely-furnished bloats named Passat in a new US factory. Not a clue. The stated goal was 800,000 sales by 2018. They got it wrong by 50%, not helped by criminal diesels.

      But the huge market opening and burgeoning in China, essentially with novice customers not up on the latest Western trends, changed things. All the Western car companies were elbowing each other out of the way in the race to the feeding troughs which meant it was Wild West time. If the Chinese want long wheelbase versions, we’ll give ’em one tomorrow! If the Chinese like flash and chromic immodesty we might deplore in the West due to cultural differences, we’ll give it to them!

      Then faced with making models for every imaginable niche, a rathole BMW and MB had indulged themselves in to beat down Ford and Opel, combined with the sheer size of the Chinese market, two sets of styling were not financially possible. Hence, we now all get the version likely to sell in the greatest quantity, and that’s not necessarily to Western audiences’ preferences. Big grilles, strakes and creases are now standard BMW fare. and dramatic overstatement is now standard equipment.

  6. Would it really be that expensive to sell it in Europe and the USA with a different bonnet, buyer and grille(s)? This thing looks as absurd as a Van den Plas Allegro.

    1. The 7 Series is a mere pretender to the luxury crown. You’ll search the brochure in vain for burr walnut picnic tables and distinguished gold coach lines.

    2. The problem for a low volume car is that the tooling cost just for a new hood stamping would be in the hundreds of euros per car. Then you have the design and testing issues related to all the different front crash tests, as well as pedestrian safety regulations. The grill has these issues as well, but the tooling costs aren’t as high.

      Changing a hood stamping is just way more complicated than it would have been 30-40 years ago.

      You might be able to ignore the crash tests for the emerging market hood and nose. And, in markets where the buyers would approve the appearance of this car, pedestrian safety regulations likely don’t exist.

      Multiple front ends for a low volume high cost car suggests to me that something like a carbon fibre hoods might be an option. Then you have lower tooling cost, but higher production cost, and a marketing hook to hype your “new” model. Although the production cost increment may well be more than the per unit tooling cost of a new stamping.

      Another issue you might have is that the marketing Johnnies will want to sell both cars in both markets. Then if you don’t, you end up in the EU market with disappointed Rappers and Russian gangsters who really wanted the feudal D-bag grill option.

  7. A short film showing the birth of a luxury icon.

    As the reviewer says, “Savile Row quality at off-the-peg prices” and “Shades of the Daimler Double-Six”. Quite so.

    1. Thanks for posting, Charles. I rather like it, especially the walnut dashboard and leather interior.

      Do I need professional help?

  8. Daniel – certainly not. I think it shows that you are a gentleman with a high degree of discernment.

    I wish they wouldn’t tie the arms down so tightly on my jacket; it makes it hard to type.

  9. I thought long and hard about why does history repeat in the case of BMW’s flagship / semi-flagship grille appearances (so-called ‘facial features’).

    Both the E60, the E65 – and now the G11/2 – have all displayed (at least
    to my humble eyes), extremely high levels of incoherence between the cars’ overall styling and the styling/effect of their fronts (grills & headlights).

    The only possible sensible answer that I could fathom, is that the marketing men are insisting on that well known feature of prominent, flagship BMW products – the ‘promise’ that the driver in front will
    ‘make way’ as soon as he sees THE kidneys in its rearview mirror.
    A.k.a. – Der Böser Blick.

    This aspect is not to be underestimated. In many markets
    (especially in those that Christopher denotes so opulently, but also
    in those that you’d really not believe), this ‘promise’ seems to
    be one of BMW’s most precious USPs.

    The psychologic discrepancies between the need for utmost ‘tense
    elegance with a hint of aggressiveness’ (the traditional, ‘eternal’
    brief for any Siebener styling, in my opinion…), and the need
    for a ‘get out of the way NOW, you nincompoop’ “facial expression”
    on its front, will probably never work harmonious with each other
    – often contradictory.

    Whilst I’m not absolutely certain that this is the answer, I am a strong defender of the thinking that the ‘get out of my way’ rearview-mirror effect is an aspect that is taken very seriously in Munich.
    Which is fully justified, as they need to sell the cars, after all.

    The fact that the “Böser Blick” reappears now, after being strikingly obvious on the E60 and E65, is eloquent enough in itself.

    To me, an early, pre-facelift E65 would be an iconic, sculptural design
    only if the observer ignored (photoshopped) the facial features’ it carried.
    Equally, the E60 would be up there with the several most
    BMW-ish BMWs ever made.

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