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Future BMW designs will be ‘cleaner’, says design boss

And current language isn't just 'throwing things out there to see what sticks’

Published: 25 May 2023

“We don’t ignore the chatter,” BMW design boss Adrian van Hooydonk tells TG. “We hear it. We see it.”

He’s talking candidly about the company’s recent run of design, and the... let’s say ‘split’ reaction it has caused. And the bottom line is... the bottom line. “We also look at our sales figures and they look good.”

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Indeed in 2022, BMW sold 2.1m cars across the globe – slightly down on its 2021 figure but still a massive amount – with ‘high new orders’ for stuff like the X1, iX1, i4, iX and i7. BMW M sold more than 177k cars too, which is up 8.4 per cent over 2021. So like it or not, it’s working.

“We feel that in our job, we need to keep adding new elements to the design, we cannot keep repeating what we have. Sometimes we have to depart and do new things. The reason for that is we also want to have success in 10 years,” he said.

The cars he and his team are designing now, for example, will come out in 2025/2026, but will hang around until 2033. “Typically the way you do it is you then move the goal posts,” he said. “Which means that when you first come out with the car, people are not sure – some like it, some don’t.

“But then at the mid-life cycle, everybody agrees. And then it holds up all the way to the end of the life cycle and probably beyond as a used car,” he added. He reckons if everybody likes the design at the beginning, it might not ‘hold up’ years into the future.

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“We have a pretty clear idea of where we’re going to go, so it’s not like we’re experimenting or throwing things out there to see what sticks. It’s a very deliberate process.” TG puts it to him that Chris Bangle’s era – a man under whom van Hooydonk worked – was at first a little controversial too, but became appreciated much later in life.

“I don’t know if it’s the same,” he said. “If we don’t keep moving now, I think we’re going to get run over. Back in the Chris Bangle era, the industry was actually fairly stable. Everybody was very comfortable. And then this change that he brought probably caught everybody by surprise, and people never really understood why.

“Now we’re living in a time where people do understand.”

He notes how while it’s not ‘his’ company or brand, he feels a responsibility for its future. “I’m the custodian for a certain period of time and I want to do a good job. Of course we want to build on what is there, which is substantial, but I know that building means adding things, not taking from the bottom and putting it back on top.

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“That doesn’t work,” he added. One suspects the chatter is likely to continue.

As for the future of the grille? “If you look in our history, you’ve seen that we’ve done everything from vertical, very slim, to wide and very low. We feel that the BMW brand has always offered some variation of that, so we can do anything really.

“But I think in the future what is going to be important is our design will be cleaner. We will design the grille according to the proportion of the overall vehicle, or according to the expression that we want to give it."

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