Bangle's quest to ban banality

Chris Bangle stands in front of the REDS minicar. The tall, boxy model was created by the former BMW executive's Italy-based design consultancy.

Photo credit: Chris Bangle Associates
Douglas A. Bolduc is managing editor at Automotive News Europe.
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Former BMW chief designer Chris Bangle has strong feelings about the future of car design. He believes companies should be doing more to stand out from their rivals. This includes doing away with something he was once in charge of at his former employer: establishing a common design language for the entire brand.

"I would say that was my main job, to maintain that phenomenon for my years at BMW. We did our job as best we could. I believe that now it is time to move on," he told me at the Geneva auto show last month. "The reason for that is it's too much of a spiral into banality. People use words like DNA and they don’t really understand what they are talking about."

Since departing from BMW in 2009 after more than 16 years with the automaker, the 61-year-old American founded Chris Bangle Associates. In his new role, he recently posed a tough question to a client who told him his goal was to define the brand's DNA: "Can you even tell me what that small percentage is that makes your brand different from somebody else's when you are manufacturing the same way and the suppliers are all the same guys?"

When asked for examples of cars that define what he means when speaking about breaking away from having a brand DNA he provided two: the original Ford Mustang and the Nissan Juke. "There was no guy in Ford saying, 'We are going to take the Ford DNA and make this car.' They looked at young people and said, 'What do they want to buy? Excitement. Give me excitement,'" Bangle said.

With the Juke, he said what makes it great in his eyes is that it’s nothing like its sibling models in the Nissan lineup. "You show me where there is Nissan DNA in the car. That car is completely idiosyncratic. I would say that the Juke is definitely an icon that other cars have had to react to," Bangle said.

Bangle says the Nissan Juke is iconic because its design is so different from its siblings.


The Geneva show has a long history as being a great place to see supercars. This year’s show was no exception with Ferrari debuting its 488 Pista and McLaren pulling the covers off the Senna.

Bangle, however, doesn’t think of them as true supercars. "I refer to them as supercar-ish. Along with Ferrari and McLaren you will find this type of car scattered around [the show]. When you look at them they blend into this kind of melange of same-ness," Bangle said. "As a counterpoint, if you look around here you will find a whole set of real supercars from the 1960s. Every one of them is different. Every one of them made a statement about where cars and design could go."

Bangle is trying to make his own statement with the REDS electric vehicle. It was created for Chinese heavy-truck and bus manufacturer China Hi-Tech Group and will be manufactured by a newly formed company called REDSPACE. Bangle wanted to make sure the tall, boxy commuter car, which was designed for Chinese megacities, was not a traditional shape. He is hopeful that the car has a future. He is equally hopeful about the industry's future.

"In general, I don't want to be down on cars or design. I see potential. It is possible to show more of that," he said. "I am sometimes a bit surprised that opportunities are not taken. That is not good. You should try to use every opportunity to move the whole game forward."

This story is from Automotive News Europe's latest monthly magazine, which is also available to read on our iPhone and iPad apps.You can download the new issue as well as past issues by clicking here.

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