The author identifies what he regards as the best and worst of BMW design over the past six decades.
In part one I identified my BMW design heroes. Today, the villains take centre-stage. Get ready to hurl whatever comes to hand in their direction.
BMW (E65) 7 Series: It has been alleged that this truly misbegotten car looked the way it did because, during its development, too much of Wolfgang Reitzle’s attention was spent on his escalating feud with BMW Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder. Reitzle was BMW’s Head of Product Development and more than a dozen different E65 designs remained in the running until very late in the process, when the Adrian van Hooydonk proposal, which was Chris Bangle’s favourite, was pushed through on the basis that it had Pischetsrieder’s support, whereas Reitzle vehemently objected to it. This choice was driven by internal politics above all else. Without the chaos at Rover and ensuing infighting between Reitzle and Pischetsrieder, who was supported by BMW’s executive board, it is possible that common sense would have prevailed and Bangle would never have gotten his way.
In any event, the elegant conservatism of its predecessor was replaced by a design that appeared to be wilfully odd and challenging. The boot lid in particular looked like an afterthought: it was a clamshell design that sat proud of the rear end and appeared as though it might have come from a different car, its profile bearing scant relationship to the surrounding bodywork. The rear light clusters were split between the wings and boot lid, and no attempt was made to connect them physically or visually. At the front, the headlamp units’ odd shape appeared to fight against rather than flow into the surrounding bodywork. (It is little consolation that similar styling elements worked rather better on the E64 6 Series coupé and convertible, also a Van Hooydonk design.)
Between these extremities was a rather fat and amorphous centre section. One minor but particularly jarring detail was the treatment of a bodyside crease between the wheel arches. This started conventionally enough at the indicator repeater behind the front wheel arch but, rather than ‘fade out’ gradually, it finished abruptly just behind the trailing edge shut-line on the rear door. In doing so, it had the appearance of a careless and poorly resolved (rather than intentionally dissonant) detail. If Bangle had set out to court controversy with the 7 Series, he certainly succeeded, and critical reaction varied from incredulity to outright horror.
Ironically, the E65’s 2005 facelift, which remedied as much as was realistically possible without making changes to the body-in-white, was the work of none other than E38 7 Series designer, Boyke Boyer.
BMW (E83) X3: Launched in 2003, the E83 X3 was BMW’s second SUV and smaller sibling to the X5. This really was a rather curious Bangle-era design. The flanks were smooth, linear and highly disciplined, almost Audi-esque in style, with only a hint of flame surfacing contours. The most notable feature in the side profile was a rather neat reworking of the Hofmeister kink, stretched rearwards to encompass a large third light in the DLO. So far, so good.
The front and rear of the X3, however, were distinguished by light units that were wilfully dissonant in their shape and graphics. The indicators at the outboard ends of the rectangular headlamp units were triangular in shape. Together with the headlamp units, they formed what resembled an outward pointing ‘direction arrow’. Was this accidental, or an attempt to add humour to what was otherwise a very strait-laced design?
At the rear, the light units were a complex assembly of different intersecting geometric shapes straddling the shut-line between the rear wing and tailgate. Overall, the X3 gave the impression that it was the work of two designers, the second of whom (Bangle?) was determined to give the vehicle more ‘character’ and comprehensively spoilt it in doing so.
The E83 X3 is attributed to Designworks’ Geoff Velasco. Significantly, the vehicle was not just built but also engineered by Magna Steyr, as BMW lacked the capacity to do so. Unofficially, the ‘rough’ cabin ambience and poor levels of perceived quality were blamed on this outsourcing.
BMW (E90) 3 Series: In 2005, the new E90 3 Series was launched. Although still carrying Bangle’s styling influences, the saloon, credited to Joji Nagashima, seemed to be a rather busy and confused design. It lacked any of the E60’s purity and appeared to be rather tall, narrow and frumpy, especially when viewed from the rear, an aspect which some thought resembled the misbegotten Mitsubishi Carisma. The car initially sported a different rear light design that was hastily changed as it looked somewhat similar to the recently facelifted Audi A4.
The coupé and convertible were rather cleaner and more satisfactory looking, although it is a moot point as to whether or not they represented any advance on their handsome predecessors. I would suggest not. The E90 is offensive, not because it is shocking like the E65 7 Series, but because it is just so desperately dull.
BMW (E84) X1: Launched in 2009 and credited to Richard Kim, the E84 X1 was the third and smallest of BMW’s SUV models. This was a rather undistinguished looking vehicle, with awkwardly resolved front and rear ends and a faint echo of Bangle’s flame surfacing in the flanks: an uncertain looking soft crease in the lower door panels made the X1 appear to have been the victim of a minor side impact. Otherwise, it was another dullard.
BMW (F07) 5 Series and (F34) 3 Series Gran Turismo: The 3 and 5 Series ranges were extended with the addition of five-door Gran Turismo models. The 2009 F07 5 Series GT, credited to Christopher Weil, actually predated the saloon by a few months. It was not an auspicious arrival: although longer and taller than the regular models, closer in size to the 7 Series and undoubtedly capacious, it had an awkward ‘hunchbacked’ look that won it few admirers.
The F34 3 Series GT, credited to Page Beerman, was launched in 2013. It was somewhat less awkward looking than its larger sibling, but no beauty. Neither GT model was a success in terms of sales. Most of those who needed more space and/or versatility than was offered by a 3 or 5 Series saloon simply bought the far better looking estate versions instead, making the Gran Turismo models pointless as well as ugly. Nevertheless, they had at least one influential champion: former BMW CEO & current head of the supervisory board, Norbert Reithofer, allegedly loved this body style.
BMW (G05) X5 and (G07) X7: Credited to Hussein al-Attar, the 2018 G05 X5 arrived with a greatly enlarged kidney grille and a blatantly aggressive stance. It was joined by an even larger and more aggressive looking SUV, the G07 X7, which was the work of Julien Sarreméjan. There was nothing subtle or self-effacing about these new models; they were big, brash and in-your-face. There was widespread criticism in Europe of the perceived vulgarity of these new models, but BMW was not designing them for Europe anymore. The big growth market was China, and tastes there were radically different to those in BMW’s traditional markets.
BMW (G15) 8 Series: 2018 also saw BMW launch a new G15 8 Series coupé, convertible and four-door Gran Coupé to replace the 6 Series. The numerical inflation was apt for the new model, which is much bigger and more bloated looking than its predecessor. It has been alleged that the G15 was actually developed as a 6 Series, but BMW marketing and sales decreed late in the process that changes in nomenclature would allow the asking price to be increased. At the front, the kidney grille is, as with the current 1 and 3 Series, much enlarged and distorted in shape, with the kidneys conjoined. Below is a complex arrangement of air intakes, ostensibly for engine and brake cooling, but surely far larger than necessary?
At the rear, the car features the now standard, multi-layered arrangement of dummy wheel vents, diffuser and huge rhomboid-shaped exhaust outlets. The flanks are strangely featureless, apart from that other current BMW design cliché, a dummy vent behind the front wheel arch. The Hofmeister kink is gone, replaced by a nondescript angular frame surrounding the rear side window. Some commentators have, with justification, described the side profile of the new 8 Series coupé as a poor facsimile of the Ford Mustang. The coupé and convertible are credited to John Buckingham, while the Gran Coupe is the work of Jacobo Dominguez Ojea.
BMW (G22) 4 Series: 2020 saw the arrival of the new G22 4 Series coupé. For the most part, this is a smaller copy of the 8 Series and shares the styling demerits described above. However, its stand-out and most controversial feature is the front grille: the formerly separate kidneys have mutated into a giant angular single-piece shield-like shape that now occupies virtually the full depth of the nose and is completely at odds with the rest of the design. The grille has now to accommodate the car’s front number plate across its centre. Either side are large black trapezoidal openings that merely add to the aggressiveness of the front end.
The G22 was designed by Seungmo Lim under Karim Habib (now at Kia), who was succeeded first by Jozef Kaban and then Domagoj Dukec as BMW brand chief designer. It has been suggested that the front end was initially to be exclusive to the M version, but then added to the entire range, possibly at the behest of Dukec, who was previously in charge of the i & M divisions.
BMW iX EV: The company’s most recent launch was the iX EV, unveiled in November 2020. This appears to signal a shift in strategy for the marque’s electric vehicles. Instead of distinctively styled models like the i3 and i8, future EVs will adopt a more traditional profile and the iX, shorn of its controversial styling features, looks like a generic mid-sized SUV in the mould of the X3, with a long bonnet that looks as though it should be accommodating a large-capacity internal-combustion engine. The combination of a large front grille and long bonnet seems bizarrely inauthentic for an EV.
Up front is a grille similar to that on the 4 Series, but even larger and more prominent, especially in comparison with the unusually slim headlamp units. The side profile is notable for the unusual squared-off creases surrounding the wheel arches and a design trope widely seen elsewhere, but for the first time on a BMW. This is a piece of black trim across the D-pillar that disconnects the roof from the bodysides and disrupts the shape of what remains of the Hofmeister kink. The body is garnished with bright blue decorative trim pieces along the sills and on the front and rear ends, presumably intended to be a subliminal reference to the car’s means of propulsion, but in reality just another fussy garnish on a tediously dull design. The iX is credited to Tianyuan Li, overseen by Domagoj Dukec.
That concludes my depressing trawl through the sludge at the bottom of BMW’s design pool. A much more comprehensive review of six decades of BMW design, good, bad and indifferent, may be found in the Longer Read section of DTW, or by clicking here.
Author’s note: I am indebted to Christopher Butt for his invaluable contribution to this piece. Christopher also writes engagingly about automotive matters on his Auto-Didakt and the Design Field Trip websites.
40 thoughts on “Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part Two)”
Good morning, Daniel. I largely agree. I’m quite fond of my E92, but styling-wise it’s no improvement over its predecessor. Worse was to come, of course. My main issue with its styling are at the front. The rest is rather good, me thinks.
As for the driving part: I don’t mind the run-flat tires, which always get negative comments. 95% of my driving is on smooth motorways, though. My biggest gripe is that it feels heavier than the E46 I had before. It still handles and steers beautifully, but one does notice the extra weight.
As for the iX: The blue details may be standard or not, but you can those in black as well.
Good morning Freerk. To paraphrase a former US president, it’s just a different colour lipstick on a pig! I don’t dislike the E92, it’s much better resolved than the E90. As you rightly say, much worse was to come.
Here’s a shot of my E92 🙂
Very smart. 👍 Those alloy wheels suit it really well.
The lamps at the front had a fussy outline; the bootlid looked as if it was covering another bootlid and there was poor match between the scultpure and the shutline and the graphics. The proportion on the other hand looked fine. So, nice proportions worked but the detailing let it down.
Good morning Richard. Are you referring to the E90 (3 Series saloon) or E92 (4 Series coupé) in your comment?
E60? E65? E63? E85? E90?
Haha, Dave, “tick all that apply”! 😁
The E90 defense squad is here! hello, anyone else?
Though it might sound weird, just love the way it pinches in at the ends and flows out in between – both blobby and taut at the same time.
Its also pretty perfectly proportioned, and has a surprisingly large and airy greenhouse for such a modern car.
The sedan front end isn’t perfect, but its OK, i can live with it.
It was also an exceptionally nice car to drive – very balanced and refined.
I remember going on a test driving spree with my father soon after it was released, and having recently stepped out of a Volvo V50, the BMW felt like a huge a step up in every metric.
In my mind, a future classic for sure.
Good morning bjarnetv. Always happy to hear a different viewpoint, so thanks for your comment. I would emphasise that this piece merely articulates my personal viewpoint, and then only on aesthetics. Many of my ‘villains’ were beautifully built and delightful to drive, which makes their visual failings all the more egregious.
I agree, I thought the E90 3-series was OK once I’d got used to it. The looks of the other cars in the piece are much worse.
I am with you on everything bar the E65. Where you see odd, I see distinctive; where you see fat and amorphous, I see solid and stately. People scoff at the ‘rabbit hutch’ boot lid, but it led the way for even the S-Class to follow. Granted the headlamps were oddly framed and the rear lamp arrangement somewhat disjointed, but, viewed as a whole, there’s a cohesive concept. The face-lift reminds me of what FIAT did to the Multipla at face-lift time – rendered it bland and with all-too visible scalpel scars where the changes were wrought.
The E64 6-Series, today, looks fresh and stunning – a nailed-on future classic … and I predict the saloon will go the same way, if only more slowly.
If I remember correctly the E90’s rear was criticised for looking too similar to the Nissan Primera Mk1’s and one of the main goals of the facelift was to differentiate the BMW from the Nissan
If I remember correctly, E90’s original rear light design outline featured an ‘upside down L-shape’, a bit like a compressed version of E92’s rear – this was changed in a hurry after it was deemed too similar to the Audi A4 facelift’s style.
The rear end of the E90 saloon also bore an unfortunate resemblance to Mitsubishi Carisma:
In Dave’s photo above, the original E90 rear end is on the right, while the facelifted one is on the left.
I think the Mk 1 Primera was a better-looking car than the E90 . . .
Hi Christopher, you’re right about the unfortunate resemblence to the A4, but it was the E92 coupé and convertible that were the models concerned. Here’s the original tail light arrangement, An upside-down ‘L’ like the facelifted A4:
The photo in your comment shows the ‘quick fix’ in the facelift: the lower part of the ‘L’ on the wing is no longer red and there are strong red horizontal lines running across both parts of the tail light to distract your eye from the lower part.
No, Daniel – it’s the E90 saloon I’m referring to. The facelift in question was performed before that car’s initial launch, which happens occasionally, in this instance because BMW were taken by surprise by the A4 facelift.
I’ve seen images of an E90 pre-pre-production facelift, where the part of the lights incorporated into the boot lid was different, in accordance with the ‘upside-down L-theme’. That was changed into the version in the right-hand image you posted (M-NU 4249).
Ah, my mistake. I shouldn’t forget about your greater perspective on such matters! Thanks for putting me right. That late alteration might explain why the original E90 rear end was so undistinguished.
No worries, Daniel.
As a picture speaks a thousands words, I went on an online trail:
Argh, the first X3. I can honestly say I hated this car, a lot. My father in law, a BMW-only man since the mid-1970s, has gone through a significant number of BMW‘s in his time. When we first met, he drove a very nice E46 wagon, which I thought to be extremely sophisticated, be it regarding on-road manners, interior ambience or outside style. A brilliant car.
This was followed by an E83, which the dealership apparently more or less forced on him by offering a staggering lease and whooing him that an SUV is all the rage and stuff… this car was such a step-down from the E46 in so many ways. Cheap interior, uninspiring to drive, ugly looking and a shockinly harsh, bouncy and crashy ride. Awful. Just awful. And it got significantly worse mileage, too – even though it had the very same engine as the E46 that came before. The only „good“ thing about the car was, apparently, that it attracted the looks and admiration of women of a certain younger demographic (i.e. those intending to procreate soon). My FiL always made jokes that the car was shite but at least it was a bigger chick-magnet than the racy Capri he drove when he met my MiL …
Thanks for another set of interesting articles, but I feel I must speak too.
First of all, most of the goodies and baddies are here, all present and correct. You could have included pretty much all the X series except the first X5. The SUV coupes are an abomination, everyone laughed at the Avantime “people-carrier-coupe” but people buy these two-ton monstrosities by the bucketful, here in Switzerland at least.
However, the about the GT…now the 5-series GT is hideous particularly at the back. Neither a fast back nor a sleek estate, but, being based on the then current 7 Series it was at least spacious and comfortable. Two essential features in my mind for a grand tourer. The follow up 6-Series GT is much better but only sold with stupid engines here (big diesels and 350PS petrols).
Now the later 3-series GT is a revelation. Having the long wheelbase of the Chinese market saloon and being raised 10cm or so makes it the most useful BMW ever. Every time I look for a new family car the first thing I do is adjust the front seat for my longish legs, then leap into the back to see if there’s room for me in there as well. If I fit OK, then all my potential passengers will fit and given that some of our journeys can last 12hours rear seat comfort is a priority . Not many affordable cars fit this simple criteria. Those that do include the Golf Plus, Hyundai i40 estate, Honda Jazz (just) Suzuki Ignis (a most remarkable car). There are so many four-door two-seaters out there (Mercedes E-Class estate).
Back to the 3 Series GT: limousine like stretching room, a big boot, SUV beating handling and a impressive 2.0litre turbo engine that engine will drink only 8.0litre of petrol every 100km (35mpg). There are remarkably few poor features…the dashboard/ interior is made of far too many different materials and parts. Good for personal choice when perusing the brochure and ticking boxes, but they can look a mess. And the leather is a bit tough, like flying economy plus rather than the busines class of our old Lexus RX.
The 3 series estate is NOT roomier (no rear legroom, wheelbase too short), its boot is also smaller. The 5 series estate is too wide and a whole lot more money for not much more usable space. As the 3 GT has been discontinued this will probably be my first and last BMW , a shame really cos it really does work very well, especially the head up display and the automatic gearbox. There seem to be plenty around here, one of the neighbours even bought a metallic blue one almost identical to mine.
Keep up the good work!
And the vents behind the wheels are not for show
And the E60 is a goodie, it still looks remarkable and fresh, even if the interior is a let down
So is the E92 3 Series coupe, clean and tight.
And why are the roomy, useful cars so difficult to style and relatively unpopular (Renault Vel Satis, 2005 Fiat Croma)?
Hi Andrew. Thanks for your comments and fair point about the practicality of the 3 Series GT. I’m glad it has met your needs so well, but it didn’t appeal to enough buyers to justify a successor. Of course, this critique is purely concerned with the aesthetic merits or otherwise of the models discussed.
You make a good point about excellent practicality not being a suffient attribute to ensure sales success. To the Vel Satis and Croma, you can also add the Opel Signum as another model that looked great in principle but bombed in the market.
Well I‘m delighted to report that I owned 2 of the models mentioned here. I had an E92 which I find quite elegant at least from the side. Unfortunately, in a moment of madness, I specified the M-Sport option which included a completely unnecessary body kit as well as big wheels and lowered suspension which offered an Audi-like squared wheels ride. The interior was scaled down E60, but oh was it good to drive. It was a 335d so had a 6 speed automatic gearbox and had a quite astonishing ability to cover distance really quickly without having to stop for fuel. I‘ve never driven anything this side of an EV with such an instant and consistent torque delivery.
I also had the 3 Series GT, this time in 330d flavour. I would concur with the opinion above, this was a very useful car with far more space than the other F30 variants whilst being usefully narrower than a 5 Series. It also had frameless windows which I‘m a sucker for. Yes, it looked decidedly ungainly from some angles, especially the read three quarters where it really looked like it had been on the pies, I think light colours help here.
To your list of villains I think you could add the original 1 Series saloon, sorry coupe, which looked like something Noddy would drive. Oh, and the original X6, what were they thinking.
Hi Peter. As the photo of Freerk’s car above illustrates, the E92 is indeed lovely in side profile, and perfectly ok front and rear, if perhaps not quite as assured as its predecessor. As for the 3 Series GT, it’s definitely better than the 5 Series GT, but that’s as much as I’ll concede!
Good article, Daniel. Essentially, the whole current range could be nominated. The Bangle era was deservedly controversial, but at least it had its relative high points (as you pointed out), indicating that there was at least an underlying philosophy at work, albeit one that didn’t always work. I actually didn’t mind the E65 7 series, but that was mainly because, having a socialist streak, I don’t mind plutocrats looking silly…
The 5 series GT in particular is egregious:
It’s just so unnecessary, a portent… what? Oh, sorry, wrong picture, here it is:
anyway, a portent of thing to come as “unnecessary” seems an apt description of current BMW design.
I think the i3 and i8 deserve a mention for biggest missed opportunity. When they were introduced, it seemed BMW was stealing a march on the rest of the industry when one considers electrification the next step. I remember seeing an i3 on the motorway not long after its introduction and feeling like I was seeing the future – which for all intents and purposes turned out to be another (model) 3. The iX is just tragic in comparison.
Finally, I think another Bangle era banger deserves an honourable mention:
No 3 Compact ever had good dimensions, but this is just willfully clumsy.
Hi Tom. Agreed about the i3 and i8. BMW seemed to lose the initiative and not promote them effectively, but at least they were fresh and original. I saw an i3 a couple if days ago (a rare sight in my rural backwater) and thought it still looked good, in the way the Audi A2 still does.
Your photo of the 5 Series GT shows just how bad it really is, just unforivably ugly. The 3 Series Compact looks ok from the side and rear, but that front end is really amateurish. Overall, it wasn’t bad enough to warrant a place in my ‘villains’ shortlist, but it does get a dishonourable mention in the ‘Longer Read’ piece.
I was about to mention the GT, also mentioning…Whales. To my eyes this car looks like a pregnant whale.
Making time for the service to my dad’s Volvo in a Volvo/BMW dealer I had the curiosity of sitting in a BMW GT.
A rear window was malfunctioning…in a never used car still in the show floor. The RubeGoldberg-esque contraption required to depress-lift the window glass every time the door is opened-closed failed, and the door could not close.
In January, the German magazine Motor Klassik published an extensive interview with Chris Bangle in the guise of a podcast. A substantial part of this conversation, conducted in “Banglish” (his inimitable linguistic melange of German and English), covers his time as chief designer at BMW, with corresponding explanations – or in some cases almost justifications – by him of his (to this day not uncontroversial) creations.
To my great astonishment, his statements – especially in connection with the BMW E65 – tend to lack the self-confidence with which he always knew how to defend his position and the designs for which he was responsible at BMW. Instead, there is this key sentence with which he refers to the fact that BMW stands for “Bayerische Motoren Werke”, and not for “Bayerische Design Werke”. There then follows a kind of defence according to which design always had to be subordinate to engineering.
If you now look at current models – a prime example is the new BMW iX – one is quite inclined to believe that this statement obviously still corresponds to a comprehensible reality today. It would at least be an explanation for the fact that the comparatively great effort and corresponding skill that BMW quite obviously applies in various technical areas – especially in the drive systems – is often in a kind of contradiction to the respective design quality.
Whether this will be enough to successfully manage such a brand in the future remains to be seen. Doubts may be allowed, at least in view of the current developments in powertrains. The electric drive, at least, will eliminate many of the possibilities with which the combustion engine could be distinguished and set apart from the competition.
Interesting observations on both BMW in general and the Z8 in particular, thank you Mark. It’s difficult to be optimistic about the company’s design direction in light of its most recent offerings.
Mark, I admire your writing style, thanks for your enlightening contributions. I recall encountering a similar apologetic justification, but I can’t locate the reference again to document it. It went something like this:
In the late 1990s BMW’s powertrain engineering department told the design department that in order to meet their projected goals that the next generation of engines would necessarily require increased deck height, and therfore the bonnet and cowl sections of the large sedans would need to be raised in order to accommodate the next generation engines. This was unrelated to the industry trend toward higher driver/passenger “q” (hip location) points, and also unconnected to proposed pedestrian safety regulations, both of which could have produced a similar impetus to alter BMW’s evolutionary design ethos.
Bangle used this excuse to justify the resulting disruptive change to the large sedans’ design DNA as a considered and deferential compromise rather than a design-driven choice.
The E65 is an excellent design. I really like it.
Imagine releasing it today; the E65 would be every bit as shocking and radical in its segment today as it was twenty years ago. I don’t see it as a rush-job or an afterthought at all. There’s an enduring rightness to its heft, proportions and character for a car of its type. I hadn’t heard the power-struggle story before but it seems entirely believable, the product looks every bit the result of an exciting, talented and disruptive team encouraged to follow an instinct.
The facelift neutered the character and subsequent models were utterly forgettable leading to today’s lump of a thing. Let’s park that beside E65 in twenty years and see which looks fresher.
See also E85 Z4 and the E83 still looks relevant today. The E60 highlighted in the ‘hero’ piece is is only dated by fashion moving away from the three-box saloon car. Bangle gets a lot of stick, but that team put out some of the freshest and most enduring designs of their time.
Hi Sykesaj and thanks for your comment. It’s good to have an alternative viewpoint on the E65, but I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to differ in this case.
Coincidentally, I had an opportunity to study one ‘in the metal’ yesterday, admittedly a facelifted version. It was in a dark metallic blue and needed a wash, but it just looked lumpen and really badly resolved to my eyes, unlike the pristine black E60 estate I saw this morning, which looked as good as anything manufactured today, and certainly more handsome than any current BMW.
Oh I’m well aware my view on this car is an unpopular one; wouldn’t it be terribly dull if we all agreed on everything! I didn’t like it when new, but my affections have warmed with the years. I can’t believe it’s a 20 year old car. Nevertheless, very happy to differ to agree on the E65 and rally behind the E60 together.
PS – I think I’ve sorted my display name out now?
Hi Andy. Absolutely! The E60 just looks better and better with time, especially the estate:
De gustibus non est disputandum – in this respect, I will not initiate a further debate on the design quality of the BMW E65 at this point. But I am happy to share some of my modest observations relating to this vehicle project during its launch phase. At that time I had just graduated from university and had been hired by a reputable brand consultancy in Switzerland to strategically reinforce their extensive activities on their BMW brand and communication account.
It must have been my first week on the job and about 12 months before the launch of the BMW E65, when there was an invitation to Munich to view the car for the first time at an unveiling in BMW’s design penthouse. At that time, I had not the slightest idea of what to expect. The current model then was the BMW E38, which seemed very appealing in terms of its elegance and proportions. In this respect, I merely looked forward to seeing how BMW was going to enhance this very accomplished design once again.
It was Chris Bangle himself who presented the prototype and explained the new appearance. And I remember very clearly that he certainly knew how to stir up a very upbeat tension among the audience. His words were selected in such a way that at the end of his keynote speech I was absolutely certain that a new milestone in automotive design was about to come to light under the wrapping.
And then this moment of exposure. Looking back, the term “shock stunned” spontaneously comes to mind. I remember that for a brief moment I had this utterly naïve hope that Chris Bangle would step forward and laughingly tell us that this was just a joke and that now the real masterpiece was about to be revealed. We know today that no such thing actually happened. But I can still recall the statement of the person sitting next to me, a top level BMW executive at that time, who quietly murmured to himself that it was probably time to resign.
That day marked the beginning of numerous months of tireless work with the single task of managing the launch in such a way that the programmed criticism from the media and the public could be dampened in the best possible way. Because one thing was already clearly apparent on that day of the aforementioned unveiling: at this time, the key executives were fully aware of the fact that they had managed to develop an extremely controversial product.
Even designers openly voiced severe disapproval of this development from behind closed doors. In some cases, these criticisms were then justified with reference to the technical framework conditions. For instance, the front headlights were allegedly supposed to be much sleeker. This apparently involved much more filigree indicator elements, which were to be based on the neon technology from the BMW Z8. According to sources, the technical partner in question had to admit at a very late stage in the development that he would not be able to fulfil his original specifications.
During another meeting, Chris Bangle himself pointed out to me that the rear axle was too narrow and did not withhold his corresponding criticism in this context. I still remember his comment and therefore quote him here in original Banglish: “The car is eating its Hinterräder (rear wheels)”. The justification for this was the alleged refusal of the CFO back then to approve the necessary resources for an adaptation of the chassis.
Incidentally, there were repeated whispers at the time about the so-called “Reitzle vehicle”. And I gradually learned that this referred to the counter-design which, according to the rumours, fell victim to the rivalry between Bernd Pischetsrieder and Wolfgang Reitzle. Those who were familiar with this concept always spoke of it with great reverence. As for myself, I only had access to a few strategic charts from this programme, which at least showed that the car was intended to be much classier in terms of luxury and to act as a bridge between BMW and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
(Instead, Goodwood then produced the Ghost Mk. I, which proved in impressive fashion that the BMW Group was quite capable of producing a grand saloon with striking visual appeal. Which in my eyes was not achieved in the same manner any more with the recent Rolls-Royce Ghost Mk. II. But that’s another story).
Hi Mark. Thanks for sharing your insider’s account of the events leading up to the launch of the E65. Given that BMW clearly knew the car was going to cause huge controversy, one cannot help but wonder how they allowed it to progress to the point where it was too late to do anything to fix it. Where was the upside for the company in being so challenging to market expectations? Did they really expect the scales suddenly to fall away from the public’s eyes and they would see the E65 as beautiful and trailblazing?
Of course, exactly the same question would apply to some of BMW’s recent launches, notably the 4 and 8 Series and the iX.
Mark that’s a fantastic insight, thanks for sharing. What an event that launch must have been, the atmosphere and tension doesn’t sound unlike a reality TV setup! I think we’d all love to have seen both the counter-proposal, and the sleeker lights on the E65.
You are raising a fundamental issue that, when studied properly, casts a highly dubious light on a large number of management decisions in the context of vehicle development. And this by no means only applies to the BMW brand.
Today, there are countless reliable studies that prove the importance of appearance when it comes to deciding which car to buy. The preference for a particular automobile is in many cases a mere matter of taste and is thus directly related to the perceived quality of the design. With increasing prosperity and a simultaneous increase in the quality of cars, the degree of consumer freedom is growing, enabling buyers to increasingly follow their own gusto.
And there are a number of real-world cases that prove that such endeavours on the part of the manufacturer are valued by the customer and result in corresponding business successes for the respective companies. In this context, I have great respect for the attitude and the resulting management structures of Hyundai and Kia, which anchored the topic of design at the very top in a corresponding board position years ago.
The same is happening at JLR with the appointment of Gerry McGovern to their board. McGovern has a reputation for being controversial and uncompromising when it comes to enforcing the designs for which he takes responsibility. That alone leaves me with great confidence in Jaguar’s future.
Let’s get back to BMW. Or to Mercedes-Benz. Because they currently follow a more or less identical school of management when it comes to design. First of all, it is the development department that is in command. And as a result, there is an excess of overstaffed committees that ultimately can only deliver one thing: Bland compromises based on the lowest common denominator. It is ruled by the basic evil of the present in the form of political correctness, this special form of uniformity, the unitary political thinking. They rely on the supposed wisdom of the majority. And in doing so, they regularly forget the all-important question: where does the wisdom of the masses end and their stupidity begin?
From my modest point of view, there is no other way to explain why designs in the shape of the BMW iX or the Mercedes-Benz EQS were not sent back to the drawing board no later than the first concept presentation.