The BMW brand has a new chief designer. Again.
Two years and one month isn’t a long time by the standards of the automotive industry. Creating a car from scratch within such a period of time would be extremely difficult. Truly changing a marque’s design ethos would be utterly impossible.
Two years and one month is exactly how long the tenure of Jozef Kabaň as BMW chief designer turned out to last. During that period, the Bavarians unveiled an onslaught of new models, which left more than one commentator baffled (new 3 series) or even shocked (X7, 7 series facelift). Obviously, none of these cars were designed under Kabaň’s watch.
So for two years and one month, the Slovakian’s appointment had served as a silver lining on the sky above Munich Milbertshofen to anyone invested in the BMW brand and its design. After all, Kabaň came with the best of recommendations, courtesy of those who had previously worked with him, describing him as ‘his own man’, a ‘designer’s designer’, a ‘fighter’ – and, above all else, someone whose ambitions are centred around his craft, rather than corporate politics.
In the small world of car design, not many people are known for being in possession of competence and willpower in equal measure – which is exactly what would be needed to right a ship as dramatically off course as BMW design today.
However, over the course of these 25 months, the same people who had poached him from Škoda in the first place appear to have changed their minds, either about Kabaň or, more to the point, what they want in a brand chief designer.
Apparently, a ‘maverick’ isn’t what the BMW brand needs after all. Which means the era of Jozef Kabaň as BMW chief designer has come to a somewhat premature end – without even as much as a single concept car or a truly in-depth interview to showcase what he had set out to achieve at Milbertshofen.
Instead, he has been reassigned. So, after having remained vacant for almost a year, the post of Rolls-Royce chief designer is now Kabaň’s. A promotion this quite obviously isn’t.
Someone who has unquestionably been promoted though is Domagoj Đukec, formerly chief designer for BMW i & M-Divisions. Unlike his immediate predecessor, Đukec represents an in-house solution, what with him having joined BMW in 2010, initially as chief exterior designer for the core BMW brand, prior to being put in charge of the (by that point semi-dormant) i sub-brand. Hence the BMW iX3 and i Next concept cars ought to be considered his calling cards.
With all due respect to the highly professional, highly paid executives in charge at the Vierzylinder high-rise and elsewhere, the reasoning behind the hiring of Kabaň, the strong-willed outsider (which also would have involved expenditure on a scale most would consider considerable), only to neutralise him before he had shown his cards in public appears rather odd.
Like every new appointee, Domagoj Đukec obviously deserves the benefit of the doubt. Yet the circumstances of this most recent round of musical chairs at BMW Group design leaves a rather unpleasant aftertaste.
Given these circumstances, it also remains to be seen whether Jozef Kabaň’s tenure at Rolls-Royce will eventually exceed 25 months. For one might be tempted to suggest that these recent developments have done less harm to his personal reputation than to that of his employer.
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